Ian Wilmut and Cloning

Ian Wilmut and Cloning

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Ian Wilmut and Cloning


Before Dolly the cloned sheep made news headlines, the same researchers had only the year before raised seven other sheep from oocytes whose nuclei had been replaced with nuclei from either fetal or embryonic tissue.1 This created a minor stir as this is the "first report to [their] knowledge, of live mammalian offspring following nuclear transfer from an established cell line."1 The implications of this is that they have provided techniques to analyze and modify gene functions in sheep (By providing clones of the same sheep).1 The key to their success is the "serum starvation" that the donor cell undergoes, to force the donor cell into a 'quiescent' state, so that it is not replicating its DNA or dividing. This possibly makes the nucleus more susceptible to re-programming by the recipient egg cell.

The researchers built on this knowledge, and carried out a nuclear transfer from cells from the mammary gland of a 6-year old ewe in the last trimester of pregnancy. (instead of fetal or embryonic stem cells). After 277 nuclear transfers, Dolly was born.2 Dolly shows morphological characteristics belonging to the breed (Finn Dorset)that donated the nucleus instead of the oocyte donor or the surrogate mother(Scottish Blackface). Thus erasing any possibility of the birth due to the mating of the surrogate mother with another sheep.

In 1975 Gurdon, Laskey & Reeves showed that nuclei transfer from keratinised skin cells of adult frogs supported growth to the tadpole stage 3. Wilmut's experiment took one step further and managed for the organism(Dolly) to grow to adulthood, thereby confirming that adult cells do in fact contain workable versions of all the genes necessary to produce an entire organism.

Previously there was widespread belief that cells from adult mammals cannot be persuaded to regenerate a whole organism. Now that Wilmut has proven once and for all that this is otherwise, many cloning experiments that were once fantasy could now be accomplished. For example, an organism of interest can be cloned from any living cells from it if it no longer can reproduce normally (perhaps due to defects in gametes formation) or if only cultured cells of the organism of interest remains (it has already died but complete cell death has not occurred).

However, it will take some time before Wilmut's technique is used as an important aid in all manner of biological and biomedical investigations. As forementioned, having to do 277 nuclear transfer just to obtain one living sheep is impractical for most experiments.

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The technique would have to be refined further. Already there are researchers working at it. Recent research of interest shows that the paternal and the maternal chromosomes do not mix during the first few cell divisions and it is possible that this is the reason for the low success rate of cloning experiments.

"At present, cloning from embryonic cells and even old-fashioned animal breeding are still more efficient ways of producing large numbers of genetically altered animals, notes William H. Velander of Virginia Polytechnic Institute.",4 Furthermore it is probable that Wilmut's techniques may not work when used on other species.

In summary, Wilmut has opened many windows of opportunities which may or may not be dead ends. However, his greatest contribution is the proof that it is possible to clone animals from differentiated cells, showing that differentiated cells still retained all the genetic information of embryonic stem cells.

References

Campbell, K. H. S. et al., Nature 380, 64-66, (1996).

Wilmut, 1. et al, Nature 385, 810-813, (1997)

Gurdon, J.B., Laskey, R.A. & Reeves, O.R. The developmental capacity of nuclei transplanted from keratinised skin cells of adult ftogs. J. Embryol. Exp. Morph. 34,93-112 (1975).

http://www.sciam.com/explorations/030397clone/030397beards.html "A Clone in sheep's clothing" by Tim Beardsley; Scientific American Exploration, March 3,1997
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