When Dolly, the cloned sheep, met the media in 1997, she unleashed a torrent of headlines, articles, editorials, and at least one book (Clone ,by Gina Kolata). Another after three years seems superfluous, but it’s the one to read.
Dolly was not the first cloned animal, the first cloned sheep, or even the first cloned sheep at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. She was, however, the first mammal cloned from an adult of her species: a dazzling accomplishment, which provoked tabloid fantasies about human cloning. In fact, cloning was not the researchers’ goal—it was merely a step toward creating an animal genetically transformed in a useful manner. Dolly got the headlines, but Polly, born a year later, is more useful: not only is Polly a clone, but she is fitted with a human gene for anti-hemophilic factor, which she secretes into her milk. These sheep symbolize the roaring triumph of a late 20th–century revolution less publicized than the computer revolution but actually more important, for cloning and genetic engineering will allow us control over elements in our lives from food to medicine to aging. Even more significant, they are teaching us precisely how living things grow and function (we learned how nonliving things function early this century with relativity and quantum mechanics). Wilmut and Campbell are the scientists most responsible for Dolly, but the book is actually written by veteran British science writer Tudge (The Engineer in the Garden, 1994). A thorough professional, Tudge immersed himself in the subject for two years, picked the brains of Wilmut and Campbell, and understood the implications of their work. With their help, he begins at the beginning with Mendel and Darwin, and in lucid prose he describes the scientists, the experiments, and the growth of knowledge that accelerated after the discovery of DNA structure in 1953 and exploded a generation later. By the time he explains how Dolly’s cloning was achieved, readers will understand the details and appreciate the accomplishment.
An important book and impressive piece of science writing.