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Looking for an accessible guide to cloning together with sex, scandal, a putative hoax, a fraud claim, counterclaims, industrial secrets and a cast of maverick scientists and myths that makes for a greatly entertaining true story ? To find a single book which has the potential to affect one's ideas and thoughts as to what it means to be human is a rarity, but some readers might be so affected by this work. Thematically weaving between the key historical developments leading to claims for the first cloning success using adult tissue and discussions of the moral ethics of whether and why such research be conducted, Kolata's account of the making of Dolly the sheep reminded me of Watson's The Double Helix. Not only do we read here about the manipulation of genetic material outside the realms of human replication and fertility, we are continually provoked with the wider issues relating to food production processess, the social responsibilies of the research scientist, and the role of science journalism in informing public opinion.We are also exposed to the less attractive side of running the day-to-day life of the research laboratory - the struggle with grant competition; peer pressure, review and publication demands; conference attendance and institutional sponsor politics. Kolata provides all of this in a very well written and researched book including frank (and seemingly) honest biographies of the leading players in the road to Dolly.
The story as presented here covers a period of just over one hundred years following Weismann's discovery of the loss of information' with subsequent cellular differentiations of dividing tissue. Within twenty years or so the role of the cell nucleus had been determined, and by 1938, Spemann's Embryonic Development and Induction proposed the very nuclear transplant experiment that was to succeed some 60 years later. The first successful accounts of this technique involved the use of the embryonic frog tissue in the 1950s by Briggs & King, but the older, more differentiated cell nuclei proved harder to handle and maintain. In the early 1960s, Gurdon succeeds with the transfer of what were thought to be adult, fully differentiated cells taken from amphibian intestines. At about the same time as these developments were unfolding, the first symposia to address the possibility of cloning and its implications for ethics had taken place. The end of the 1960s had seen the advent of gene isolation (though curiously little is said about the discovery of DNA itself and the significance of the newly founded growth area of molecular biology) and within the next ten years we had moved from the in vitro fertilisation of mice to Louise Brown, born in 1978. That same year saw the publication of a non-fiction book claiming that the real-life rich, eccentric Max had himself cloned with the assistance of a world-renownd scientist known by the pseudonym Darwin with the assistance of a seventeen year old virgin called Sparrow, who gives birth to a healthy baby boy. I would recommend reading Kolata for her retelling of the Rorvik (1978) story if for no other reason.
The following year saw Illmensee claim to have cloned the first mice using the nucleus of embryonic stem cells and, again, we are both entertained and informed by Kolata's telling of this most remarkable tale of intrigue and collegiate suspicion of happenings in the laboratory. It was not until the 1980s and '90s that successful sheep, cow and eventually monkey cloning was to be completed (all still using embryonic nuclear material transfer) at least suggesting that there was no in principle reason to believe adult cloning to be beyond possibility. However, very few scientists apparently held this latter belief -- and these few were not encouraged to pursue their ideas.
Now suitably brought up to speed with our history of embryology, experimental biology techniques and the sweat involved in conducting seemingly unglamorous basic laboratory science, we are finally introduced to Ian Wilmut, whose research group were to achieve what to many was still biologically impossible. Wilmut and his colleage Campbell postulated that the problem of cloning transplants was perhaps with tranfering the nuclear DNA at such a time inappropriate to the natural activity phases of the cell cycle. Campbell determined that the so colled G0 (G-nought) phase of the cell cycle was one of synchrony and, combined with the technique of halting induced by nutritional deprivation, thought that it was during this period that cell reprogramming' would be more likely successful. In March, 1996 the first clones of a mammal (sheep) were born using differentiated embryonic cell nuclei, but their announcement was largely lost to the wider world outside that of a handful of agricultural scientists. However, in July of the same year, the first sheep cloned from the fully-differentiated cell nuclei of adult tissue was born to Wilmut's lab. The news that was to reach the world over had first to wait out a period of great secrecy and gossip-mongering. The (true) story is revealed lucidly here, and provides another reason to read Kolata's book. And yes, according to this account she was named for Dolly Parton.
Dr. A. R. Dickinson, Dept. of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine
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