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Animal breeding in the age of biotechnology: the investigative pathway behind the cloning of Dolly the sheep

Garcia-Sancho, M

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences   37 (3) 282-304

DOI: 10.1007/s40656-015-0078-6

September 2015

This paper addresses the 1996 cloning of Dolly the sheep, locating it within a long-standing tradition of animal breeding research in Edinburgh.
Far from being an end in itself, the cell-nuclear transfer experiment from which Dolly was born should be seen as a step in an investigative pathway that sought the production of medically relevant transgenic animals.

By historicising Dolly, I illustrate how the birth of this sheep captures a dramatic redefinition of the life sciences, when in the 1970s and 1980s the rise of Neo-Liberal governments and the emergence of the biotechnology market pushed research institutions to show tangible applications of their work. Through this broader interpretative framework, the Dolly story emerges as a case study of the deep transformations of agricultural experimentation during the last third of the twentieth century. The reorganisation of laboratory practice, human resources and institutional settings required by the production of transgenic animals had unanticipated consequences.
One of these unanticipated effects was that the boundaries between animal and human health became blurred. As a result of this, new professional spaces emerged and the identity of Dolly the sheep was reconfigured, from an instrument for livestock improvement in the farm to a more universal symbol of the new cloning age.