Ten years ago today, on July 5, 1996, the famous sheep called Dolly was born. There were no press announcements, for her "creators" had yet to submit the paper on the experimental methods and results to a professional scientific journal. It was not until February of the following year that most of press and the world got to hear of this extraordinary accomplishment with mammalian cloning. There is probably no single scientific experiment that has caused such controversy as this one, with most of this controversy coming from a misguided and publicity seeking press.
The authors present in this book an overview of the experiment from standpoint of Ian Wilmut, as one who was directly involved in bringing about the birth of Dolly. Written with the assistance of a professional writer, Wilmut gives the reader a fascinating look into the science behind Dolly, and also make commentary on the biological and genetic science that came after her birth. All of these developments are very exciting, and are ample proof that we are living in extraordinary times. Genetic engineering is a fascinating technology, and hopefully it will continue to play a large role in optimizing the health of all organisms, human and otherwise.
As expected from his public discussion, Wilmut is against reproductive cloning. However, his warnings against its practice he backs up with scientific argument, detailing the many problems that arise in attempts to clone mammals. The authors do touch on the ethical arguments against human cloning, but their arguments on this account are faulty, and have been successfully countered by other individuals, and will not be repeated here.
Wilmut comes across in the book as being a very practical, patient, and humble man, and one who is definitely fed up with the public outcries and misrepresentations of biological science in today's newspapers and magazines. The reader is left with the impression that Wilmut felt honored to be involved in the Dolly experiment, and even might have been slightly surprised at its success, comparing for instance his laboratories with other more equipped laboratories across the ocean.
Cloning from adults at the time was "proved" to be "impossible" by some molecular biologists of the time, as the authors point out. One can only imagine then the excitement when Wilmut and his team verified through ultrasound that the Dolly fetus was healthy. And their determination to proceed with the experiment, in spite of the "impossibility" proofs, is another strong argument for ignoring the opinions of experts when doing scientific research. Frequently the experts are correct, but their words are not sacrosanct, as laboratory experimentation in this case proved all too well. One hates to think of the research that has not been done because of discouragement from "experts."
Since the book is about genetic engineering as it progressed after the birth of Dolly, one expects to find discussion on transgenesis and pharming, and this is indeed the case. The authors give an encapsulated but effective overview of the developments in genetic engineering primarily from the viewpoint on how they will affect human health.
The authors are optimistic about the future of genetic engineering, but are hesitant to engage in utopianism. They want to leave the impression that genetic engineering will have a minimal impact as compared with what has been done via natural evolution. But as the technologies of genetic engineering become more perfected, and as mammalian cloning becomes better understood, it is fair to say that genetic engineering will have a major impact in the twenty-first century. If it enhances human intelligence and health, if it makes couples happy with children born through human cloning, if it creates thousands of new transgenic animals and plants, in short if it radically changes the biosphere as we know it in a way that makes life on Earth more harmonious, then Wilmut and his team, along with all the other genetic engineers, deserve not only our utmost respect and praise, but also our envy: for taking the first steps into a fascinating new frontier.