Sir Ian Wilmut


Sir Ian Wilmut
Sir Ian Wilmut and Dolly the Sheep
Hampton Lucey, England
Associated organizations
Royal Society, Director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Roslin Institute
Fields of study
Genetic Engineering, Embryology, Cryopreservation, Agricultural Studies
Order of the British Empire in 1999, induction into the Royal Society, Paul Ehrlich Prize, Shaw Prize in 2008, knighted in 2008


Ian Wilmut is a embryologist and genetic engineer who was the leader of the first research group to successfully clone an animal. He is also credited for birthing the first animal from a frozen embryo. Currently, he serves as the Chair for the Scottish Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. The creation of the first cloned animal had created a controversy in the world of engineering and science. Ethical questions have been raised with regard to cloning technology and have shaped the ways in which the global community views genetic engineering[1].

Ian Wilmut was born on July 7th, 1944 in Hampton Lucey, England, and raised in the town of Coventry. [2]. While attending the Scarborough High School for boys, he met with Gordan Whalley, head of the biology department. Despite considering himself an average student at best, Ian enjoyed the scientific research given to him by Whalley and the department, and slowly but surly took a steady interest in research.His true passion was in spending time within an outdoor environment and he decided to study agricultural farming at the University of Nottingham[3].

Attending the University of Nottingham, he found that he enjoyed his farming studies. However, he couldn't stand the business aspects of agriculture, and found himself struggling with the marketing components to a successful farming venture. To counter this, Wilmut had decided to concentrate his internship studies on embryology, where he immensely enjoyed the research he was doing[4]. During this research, he was able to complete an eight week internship at Cambridge in the labs of Christopher Polge, a well known cryobiologist. It was here that he was introduced to the preservation and manipulation of animal cells.

Graduating from the University of Nottingham in 1967 with a degree in agricultural studies, he went on to attend the University of Cambridge to study genetic engineering. Attending the Darwin College in Cambridge University, Wilmut continued to work in Polge's laboratory on the preservation of boar semen. Receiving his doctorate in 1971 after publishing his thesis on deep freeze preservation of boar semen, in 1973 he continued to research at the Animal Breeding Research Station (ABRS), where he began to focus on cryopreservation. Freezing cow embryo's, he and his team managed to take frozen calf embryo's and insert them into the womb of a surrogate mother. The mother was successfully able to give birth from the cyropreserved embryos, making Ian and his team the first to successfully give birth to a cryopreserved egg,[5].

In 1986 while at a pub, he was told that a Danish embryologist had succeeded in producing a lamb from the cells of an already-developing lamb embryo. At the time that the scientific community had begun to hold significant doubts on the prospects of cloning, let alone the production of a full mammal. However, this did not stop Wilmut from pursuing the matter. At the Roslin Institute, Dr. Wilmut and his colleague Keith Campbell teamed up to attempt the cloning of an organism. Together they had realized that they would need to make an already differentiated cell behave like an embryonic cell, as it would be necessary to cause the cell to hibernate. They induced quiescence in differentiated embryonic cells, implanting them into the womb of a surrogate sheep. As a result, they produced two sheep, Mega and Morag, both born July 1995 [6].

Building off the research that was conducted in the Mega and Morag project, Dr. Wilmut and Campbell took steps to developing the cloning procedure. Taking the DNA from a FIinn Dorest mammary gland, Dr. Wilmut switched off its active genes and fused it with an egg cell from a Scottish Blackface ewe from which he had removed the genetic material. He used electricity to fuse the mammary cell with its own DNA to the empty egg, repeating the process with 277 under cells and eggs from sheep. Only 29 of the eggs successfully were able to grow and divide into embryos. Ian transferred the 29 into a surrogate mother, where thirteen became pregnant. Only one delivery was successful. On July 5, 1996, the Dolly the cloned lamb was born at the Roslin Institute. Wilmut released the news to the world on February of 1997.[7].

Immediately after Wilmut released the news to the world, a storm of controversy erupted. People began to question the morality of cloning, as it has implications for human cloning. Wilmut responded that he would never intend to clone humans as the intention of doing so would be ethically unacceptable but this did not stop the public from scrutinizing his work [8].

In the March of 1997, the U.S. Senate public health and safety subcommittee heard a hearing to discuss the scientific and ethical implications of his work. By 1999, groups were lobbying for a change in the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act in Great Britain, in order to allow the use of surplus eggs from assisted fertilization treatments to be developed for fourteen days. [9].

After the events of Dolly, Dr. Wilmut was employed at the Roslin Institute until 2005 when he received an offer to become the Director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He has received many honors, including the Order of the British Empire in 1999, induction into the Royal Society in 2002, the Paul Ehrlich Prize in 2005, and the prestigious Shaw Prize in 2008. He was also knighted in 2008. Today, Dr. Wilmut continues to be a dominating presence within the field of embryology, where his historical contributions to the fields of science and genetic engineering have deeply impacted the ways in which we perceive life[10].