Sir Ian Wilmut, the man who led the team behind the famous cloned sheep Dolly, has died.
Described as a “titan of the scientific world”, he was 79.
Announcing Sir Ian’s death, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.
“He was a titan of the scientific world, leading the Roslin Institute team that cloned Dolly the sheep – the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell – which transformed scientific thinking at the time.
“This breakthrough continues to fuel many of the advances made in regenerative medicine that we see today.
“Our thoughts are with Ian’s family at this time.”
Professor Sir Ian Wilmut was part of a team at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh who successfully cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996.
Announced to the world amid much media frenzy on February 22, 1997, she was part of a series of experiments at the Roslin Institute trying to develop a better method of producing genetically modified livestock.
Dolly was cloned from a cell taken from the mammary gland of a six-year-old Finn Dorset sheep and an egg cell taken from a Scottish Blackface sheep.
Her white face was one of the first signs that she was a clone – because if she had been genetically related to her birth mother, she would have been born with a black face.
Dolly’s DNA came from a mammary gland cell, so she was named after country singer Dolly Parton.
She lived a normal life at the institute before her death in 2003 at the age of six.
Sir Ian said he hoped cloning would mean no species became extinct, but Dolly’s creation also paved the way for potential stem cell treatments to tackle degenerative diseases.
He retired from the University of Edinburgh in 2012 and revealed a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease six years later.
In a 2018 interview with the BBC, Sir Ian said: “There was a sense of clarity, well now at least we know and we can start doing things about it.
“As well as, of course, the disappointment that it’s going to potentially shorten my life a little bit, and more specifically, it’s going to change the quality of life.”
Prof Bruce Whitelaw FRSB, director of The Roslin Institute, which oversaw the breakthrough, said “science has lost a household name”.
“Ian led the research team that produced the first cloned mammal in Dolly,” he said.
“This animal has had such a positive impact on how society engages with science and how scientists engage with society. His legacy is driving so many exciting applications emerging from animal and human biology.”