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Plaque to honour Dolly the sheep

Plaque to honour Dolly the sheep

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Dolly the sheep is to be honoured with a plaque as part of a project to celebrate heroes of biology.

The first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, she was born in 1996 and died in 2003.

On Wednesday a blue plaque celebrating Dolly and the team who created her will be unveiled by the Society of Biology at The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, where she was created.

It is one of a new series of 10 celebratory plaques being unveiled by the Society of Biology across the UK to celebrate eminent but sometimes unsung heroes of the science.

Others being honoured include IVF pioneers Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards and Jean Purdy, Richard Owen, who invented the word “dinosaur”, and Dorothy Hodgkin, who discovered the structure of penicillin.

Sir Ian Wilmut, from the University of Edinburgh and lead researcher on the Dolly project, will give a speech at the unveiling ceremony.

He said: “The birth of Dolly, the first clone of an adult animal, revolutionised our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate development.

“We used to believe that once a cell had differentiated to a specific tissue type it could not be changed. The birth of Dolly showed that this is not the case.

“This result stimulated research which is now providing revolutionary opportunities in medicine.”

Dr William Ritchie, from Roslin Embryology, who worked with Sir Ian on the Dolly project, said: “To make the Dolly experiments successful, many people were involved, from lab technicians to the farm staff caring for the animals to the surgeons and anaesthetists whose skills successfully transferred the embryos.

“All the people who gave their skills, effort and dedication to these experiments are immensely proud of the contributions which they made.”

A statement from Louise Brown, the first “test-tube baby”, will be read at the plaque unveiling ceremony for Steptoe, Edwards and Purdy at their old clinic in Oldham, Greater Manchester, on March 13.

She said: “My mum always spoke with great affection of her visits to the little cottage hospital in Oldham where the biologists did such great work.

“It was here Jean Purdy first saw cells divide through a microscope – the beginning of my life.

“Sometimes we forget that science is not just about test tubes and chemicals, it is about people and the difference that can be made to people’s lives.

“A few years ago, just before she died, my mum realised that every blood relative she had in the world – me, my sister Natalie, her grandchildren – had all been due to science and IVF. Without the biologists she would have been alone in the world.”

The 10 blue plaques are part of the society’s national Biology: Changing The World project.

The project includes a new app, website, public engagement programme and teaching resources.

Dr Mark Downs FSB, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said: “We have a great heritage of scientific discovery and an exciting future, but the biologists who have contributed to our understanding of the world are not always given the appreciation they deserve.

“We are delighted to be giving these biologists the recognition awarded to other great historical figures through Biology: Changing The World.

“The project is also a celebration of biology and biologists today. The life sciences will be essential for solving the problems of the 21st century such as food security and antibiotic resistance.

“By highlighting our great biology heritage we hope to inspire the next generation.”

The Biology: Changing The World project was developed by the Society of Biology in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The society is also installing plaques to Sir Alan Hodgkin and Sir Andrew Huxley, Nobel prize winners for discovering how nerve cells transmit signals through experimentation on giant squid, Dame Honor Fell, who pioneered the study of living cells and uncovered the immune system’s role in rheumatoid arthritis, and JBS Haldane, whose mathematical work on genetics was critical to the acceptance of natural selection.

Fred Sanger, a double Nobel laureate for work on DNA sequencing, Marjory Stephenson, a microbiologist who pioneered understanding of bacteria, and Sir Anthony Carlisle, co-discoverer of electrolysis and a possible inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, are also being honoured.

People can find out more about the project at the website – http://biologyheritage.societyofbiology.org

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