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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.