(Daily360.com) – Sir Ian Wilmut, the British scientist at the forefront of cloning theory and technology, has died at the age of 79. Back in the 1980’s it was Wilmut who led a pioneering team of researchers in the field of cloning. Their major breakthrough came in 1996 with the cloning birth of “Dolly the sheep,” named after American country singer Dolly Parton, the first animal ever cloned from an adult somatic cell.
Their work was also a pioneering feat in the area of stem cell research and created the pathway for regenerative cell medicine. Wilmut was part of the esteemed Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Roslin’s director Bruce Whitelaw said Wilmut’s career reach was global in its impact.
Principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, Sir Peter Mathieson, said that Wilmut’s cloning of Dolly the sheep “transformed” the way scientists thought which has led to the majority of breakthroughs in the field we’ve seen since. He called Wilmut a “titan” in the world of science.
There was controversy at the time of his breakthroughs as well. Most stemmed from the potential of human cloning. People feared that if they could genetically modify animals and enhance the proteins in their milk what might be next. Then-president Bill Clinton even proposed a full ban on ‘human cloning.’ Clinton told the New York Times in 1997 that this technology had the potential to damage the family bonds people hold sacred and to fracture society. He also said he feared it could be used by parents to attempt to genetically modify their potential offspring.
In recent years Wilmut’s health has been in a steady decline due to Parkinson’s disease. He was knighted in 2008 and retired from his role within the University of Edinburgh in 2012. Since 2018 he’s been collaborating with scientists from the University of Dundee in a research initiative related to Parkinson’s disease. Sir Ian Wilmut is survived by his wife Sara, their three children and five grandchildren.
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