These things are not like eureka moments. It's not like sitting in a bathtub, going yippee and jumping out. It took about a year. A year before Dolly, we made [the cloning process] work using embryo cells. Then we knew we would be able to clone from an udder cell. We didn’t know how soon, but we knew it was possible.
Dolly is arguably one of the most, if not the most, important scientific milestones in modern science. How did such a momentous event come from a small village in Scotland?
The smart answer to that would be because we’re smart! The serious answer would be that we were pushing the envelope at the right place, and we were lucky. We did a particular experiment that gave us the insight to change our methods, and we were lucky we did it first. We were aware that other people were working in the field, and we were actually late coming to it. In fact, the director of the institute suggested that we were so late that we shouldn't even start.
Before Dolly was born, you had made dozens of embryos that didn't survive. Were you worried that Dolly wouldn’t make it?
We were very worried. We had one chance, one lamb, and previous experiments showed that the chances of having a healthy lamb were very small. That was the reason why I wasn't there [at the birth]. I was determined that the ewe should not be disturbed by having a lot of people around. These sheep are used to living life on a hill, and until they were brought in for the studies, they probably saw people only six times a year. Being near people could still be a frightening experience for them, so the sensible thing to do was to limit the amount of stress the surrogate was under. I only wanted the people who had to be there to be there, and I applied the same rule to myself.
Did Dolly have a personality?
She was spoiled. On the hill farms where I live, if a lamb is orphaned, it's taken inside, sometimes even into the house, and hand fed by the farmer’s wife. So the lambs get used to people, and a lamb like that will come toward people because they are a source of food. Dolly had a similar situation; she did see a lot of people, an awful lot more than most sheep. And because we wanted her in a particular place to be photographed, she was often given extra food. So she got different by being spoiled and getting a lot of human attention.
If it were safe, would you be interested in cloning yourself?
It’s a different way to begin separating out nature and nurture, and to see how different this boy would be. But I have many times been asked if my children have followed me into research it's something people subconsciously expect. For a clone, the pressure would be even greater. People would expect the clone to be like the original, and put expectations and limitations on them, and that's the reason why I don't like to use that technique. I think people should be wanted as individuals.