Sunday, December 20, 2009

Whatever Happened to Dolly the Sheep?

Entry for 20 December 2010 (travelling back to Toledo):

After Craignethan, there were two more December Saturday Adventures. The first of these was a return visit to the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh last Saturday. On our first visit, with Kenneth 18 months ago, we failed to make it out of the basement of the museum, the part dedicated to Prehistory (geological and human). This time, we were determined to see more of this 8-floor museum, but in fact didn’t do much better than last time. We hooked up with a “museum treasures” tour from one of the docents, who took us into a part of the museum that we hadn’t even realized existed when we were there last time:/ This consisted of a random collection of unusual items: A mounted baby elephant; a set of samurai armor; a 100-year-old collection of beautiful glass reproductions of invertebrate sea creatures; half(!) of a gold-painted dinner service of Napoleon’s (shared with the Louvre); and so on. There was a substantial collection of early steam-driven devices, like mostly engines and mine pumps, and so on and on. Once again, we saw only a tiny fraction of what was on display.

… But there in that large room we hadn’t even known existed last time, the museum treasures in the galleries above, was Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first mammal cloned from an adult cell. She was created (or whatever the proper word is) at Rosslyn Labs, a few miles south of Edinburgh, ironically close to the mysterious Roselyn Chapel. Stuffed and mounted, echoing the 200-year old baby elephant above, Dolly looks uncannily like her namesake, Dolly Parton. The signs around her case don’t say, but I seem to remember that she didn’t live that long, but she is fairly large for a sheep, so she clearly reached maturity. I don’t think we know whether the cloning was part of the problem, perhaps her telomeres were not up to the task. Now she has the privilege of rotating eternally in a glass case lit by little spotlights, frozen in time, gawked at by science fiction fans such as me. Is she a harbinger of a future of cloned humans? Do we see ourselves when we look at her?

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