It was a birth in a barn that shook the world.
And although it’s not the kind you’ll find in a bible, the delivery of this newborn 25 years ago next week proved a biblical moment in the history of science.
Because the arrival of Dolly the Sheep defied the laws of nature – and opened a Pandora’s Box of ethical questions about what would follow next.
Dolly was the first mammal to have been successfully cloned using a cell taken from an adult of its own species.
DNA from the cell was then injected into an unfertilised egg from a ewe that had its own DNA removed – creating an embryo.
The test tube sheep was “concocted” by embryologists Karen Walker and Bill Ritchie working alongside top biologist
Keith Campbell at the Roslin Institute animal sciences research centre near Edinburgh.
They were part of a team trying to develop better methods for producing genetically modified livestock.
Bill and Karen became known as Dolly’s mum and dad, with Karen keeping test tube Dolly warm in her bra on the way from the farm to the institute for the historic experiment.
Dolly was cloned from a cell taken from the mammary gland of a six- year-old Finn Dorset ewe and an egg cell taken from a Scottish Black- face ewe – and was named after singer Dolly Parton.
Karen says the fact her birth happened at all was down to Keith, the lead biologist involved.
Until then it had always been accepted adult cells could not be cloned. But he decided to tear up the rule book and attempt it.
Mum-of-one Karen reveals: “Bill and I said, ‘That’s not going to work.’ But Keith was convinced it might be possible.”
Dolly was born to her Scottish Blackface surrogate mother on July 5, 1996, at the Institute’s nearby Dryden Farm.
It was only when her white face and furry legs emerged – markings unique to the Finn Dorset sheep – that they knew the cloning experiment had been a success.
TV news crews rushed to rural Scotland and even the then American President Bill Clinton demanded to be kept abreast of the birth’s implications. Like a real dad, Bill Ritchie leapt with joy when Dolly took her first steps minutes after being delivered.
Bill, 70, of Speyside in the Scottish High- lands, said: “I got very attached to her.
“I’d take people down to the farm to see her and I would shout, ‘Morning Dolly.’
“Without fail, I’d get a ‘baaah’ back, so she at least knew her name although she might also have been excited to be getting fed.”
Karen, 53, added: “Dolly was like the Naomi Campbell of the sheep world. She was photogenic and would rise to the occasion when visiting scientists arrived at the farm to take a look at her.
“She’d turn around and swish her head while the other sheep ran away. And she’d pose for photos like a professional model.”
In the 25 years since Dolly’s birth, a cloning industry has developed that has caused ethical debate but also paved the way for medical breakthroughs including stem cell treatment.
Dolly gave birth to several lambs but developed severe arthritis and a lung disease that led to her being put down in 2003.
Bill said: “She did get quite fat because there were so many people visiting her and they would always give her treats.”
Keith fell out with Sir Ian Wilmut, the leader of the Roslin Institute, and died aged 58 in 2012, four years after his colleague was knighted.
In 2018 Sir Ian, now 76, announced he had Parkinson’s, one of the many diseases he hoped Dolly might help cure.
Karen said: “Ian ended up taking all of the kudos but has since recognised it was a team effort. There was definitely some ill feeling given it was Keith’s idea to use those cells.
“For me, I do feel disappointed that Dolly’s birth hasn’t led to the amazing cures I hoped it would.
“But Dolly changed the face of science and became the most famous sheep in the world”.