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The invisible history of the visible sheep
How a look at the past may broaden our view of the legacy of Dolly
This report offers a new perspective on the legacy of Dolly the sheep by tracing the chain of experiments within which she was produced as the first cloned mammal in 1996. We argue that the media storm that followed her birth, with intense debates about the ethics of escalating the technology and obtaining exact copies of humans, obscured the underlying motivations of the experiments and the important role that the cloning technology has later played in stem cell research and regenerative medicine. By adopting a historical perspective, we show that Dolly should be placed within an established research project that started in the early-to-mid 1980s and sought to genetically modify – rather than copy – farm animals. She was not the start, neither the conclusion of the project, this suggesting that we need a broader framework to fully capture her impact. When, instead of Dolly, we focus on the genetic modification research within which she was produced, the ramifications of that project go as far as recent efforts to sequence the genome of the pig and use that information as a model of human biology and disease. We conclude that historical studies may help to chart the long-term impact of scientific projects, especially when they have been funded by different administrative agencies, due to their outputs spanning disciplines and species.