This book from the “father” of the world’s first cloned animal ranges from autobiography to medical history to an extensive discussion of the policies and ethical issues raised by Dolly.
An undistinguished student when he arrived at agricultural college, Wilmut became fascinated there with embryology. He landed a summer job at an animal research station, supervised by leaders in reproductive science. That launched him into decades of work: freezing and thawing embryos; inserting genes to get animals to express useful drugs (“pharming”); and finally producing Dolly. Assisted by Daily Telegraph science editor Highfield, Wilmut graphically describes the process of transferring DNA from a mammary-gland cell of an adult ewe to an egg denuded of its nucleus, then implanting the embryo into a surrogate sheep; these pages are among the book’s high points. But no one should conclude that “now we can do it so much better and faster,” the authors aver. Although now more common, cloning is still a daunting process. Wasted eggs, failed pregnancies and deformed offspring reveal how complex and subtle are the steps in reproduction. For these reasons, Wilmut concludes that human cloning is not only unethical, but also impractical. He argues instead for creating blastocysts, the hollow, days-old spheres of cells lined with embryonic stem cells. These would make it possible, for example, to study hereditary diseases, to test treatments for them, maybe even to correct the defects that cause them. “A blastocyst is not a person,” the authors passionately contend. They hope that gradual growth in knowledge, the generation of useful applications and sheer familiarity with the science (here they make an apt comparison with in vitro fertilization technology) might bring around the naysayers, especially if strict regulation assures the highest ethical standards.
The how of cloning, beautifully told by optimists who believe that wise heads and good science will justify the whys.