Ian Wilmut, the British scientist who led the project that first cloned a mammal, Dolly the sheep, shocking scientists who thought cloning was impossible, has died. He was 79.
His death on Sunday after a long illness with Parkinson’s disease was announced by the Roslin Institute, a research center near Edinburgh, where Dr. Wilmut had worked for decades.
Dr. Wilmut and his team announced the remarkable birth of Dolly in February 1997, causing a media frenzy and raising questions about the ethics of cloning. Dolly’s birth to a surrogate mother at the Roslin Institute on July 5, 1996 was shrouded in mystery for months.
Dolly, named after singer Dolly Parton, died in February 2003 at the age of 6 after a brief lung infection. Since 2003 she has been on display in the National Museum of Scotland.
“She has been a friendly face of science,” said Dr. Wilmut after her death in an interview with The New York Times. “She was a very friendly animal who was part of a major scientific breakthrough.”
Dr. Wilmut was born near Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the son of two teachers and became interested in biology at school. He studied animal sciences at the University of Nottingham and obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, where his research focused on the preservation of sperm and embryos through freezing.
He continued to work as an embryologist in Scotland, researching the genetic engineering and cloning of sheep, in an attempt to create milk containing proteins used to treat human diseases and to create stem cells that could be used in regenerative medicine.
In 2005 he moved to the University of Edinburgh, where he retired in 2012. He was knighted in 2008, according to the Roslin Institute.
In 2018, Dr. Wilmut, who lived in Scotland, that he had Parkinson’s disease and would take part in a research program to test new types of treatments aimed at slowing the disease, which affects the part of the brain that controls movement.
Dr. Wilmut is survived by his wife Sara and three children from his first marriage, Naomi, Helen and Dean. He has five grandchildren.