DOGS HAVE THEIR DAY AND CATS THEIR LOOK AT THE KING. EVEN pigs get to hog the limelight. Sheep, however, have been modest creatures, content to mill about in the background, going “Baa!” as some collie (or Babe) does its star turn, and thereafter to be humble donors of chops and wool. All that changed, though, when a Finn-Dorset mix named Dolly burst onto the scene.
Not since the Golden Fleece has there been so much fuss about a sheep. Named for Dolly Parton, Dolly is the first animal ever to be cloned from a cell taken from an adult, and the February announcement of her birth in a research laboratory in Roslin, Scotland, set off a flurry of punning headlines—”Ewe Beauty,” “Send In the Clones”—and a deluge of media thumb-sucking. Scientists and ethicists fretted that we might be on the verge of a Franken-steinian dystopia populated by mass-produced lookalikes. (Whom would they look like? Donald Trump? Roseanne? Al Gore?) Yet, while a presidential commission recommended a limited ban on human cloning in the U.S. and Britain outlawed it completely, concern has begun to change to acceptance. “I think a lot of people who initially found it repugnant now feel it may not be so bad,” says Gina Kolata, a New York Times reporter and author of Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead. Cloned cells may be genetically enhanced, Kolata explains, so that “we can make identical twins of ourselves and then we can make identical twins resistant to AIDS.” Dr. Ian Wilmut, 53, head of the team that created Dolly, remains opposed to human cloning, but, he says, “I think the technology can be used in other ways for all sorts of treatments.”
Dolly, meanwhile, free forever from the threat of a rendezvous with mint sauce, lives out her days in ovine luxury in Scotland. Scientists say they plan to breed her someday soon. No cloning, though; this time, they’re going to do it the old-fashioned way—by artificial insemination.