A scientist who led the team that created Dolly the sheep has died at the age of 79.

Professor Sir Ian Wilmut was part of a team at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh which successfully cloned Dolly in 1996.

Sir Ian was knighted in the 2008 New Year Honours list for services to science at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh.

He retired from the University of Edinburgh in 2012 and revealed a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease six years later.

Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, but not the first ever sheep to be cloned.

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Prof Wilmut hoped cloning would mean no species became extinct – but Dolly also helped to pioneer stem cell research.

He was described as a “titan of the scientific world” and a “household name”.

Sir Ian was knighted in the 2008 New Year Honours list for services to science.

Dolly started her life as a single cell in a test tube taken from the mammary gland of a Finn Dorset sheep and an egg cell from a Scottish Blackface Sheep. Once normal development was confirmed in a lab at six days, the embryo was transferred into a surrogate mother.

Dolly was born on July 5, 1996, and named after the country western singer Dolly Parton. 

The Herald: Dolly the sheepDolly the sheep

The scientists behind that project, led by Sir Ian, had carried out 277 of these nucleus transfers, from which only 29 were developed into embryos suitable for implanting and, in the end, only one - Dolly - reached term.

The birth of Dolly was kept under wraps until the publication of Roslin Institute’s research paper could be prepared. Her birth was announced on February 22, 1997.

Dolly spent her whole life living in a flock of sheep at the Roslin Institute. Dolly had six lambs with a Welsh Mountain sheep named David. 

Their first lamb, Bonny, was born in the spring of 1998. Twins, Sally and Rosie, followed the next year and triplets, called Lucy, Darcy and Cotton, the year after that.

Dolly remained healthy until 2003 when, while undergoing tests, a CT scan showed tumours growing in her lungs and the decision was made to euthanise Dolly to prevent her suffering. She was put to sleep at the age of six.  

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Dolly captured the public imagination and was donated to National Museums Scotland by the Roslin Institute. She has been on display at the National Museum of Scotland since 2003. 

Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.

"He was a titan of the scientific world, leading the Roslin Institute team who cloned Dolly the sheep - the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell - which transformed scientific thinking at the time. This breakthrough continues to fuel many of the advances that have been made in the field of regenerative medicine that we see today.  

“Our thoughts are with Ian’s family at this time.”     

Prof Bruce Whitelaw FRSB, director of the Roslin Institute, said: “With the sad news today of Ian Wilmut’s passing, science has lost a household name.

“Ian led the research team that produce the first cloned mammal in Dolly.

“This animal has had such a positive impact on how society engages with science and how scientists engage with society.

“His legacy drives so many exciting applications emerging from animal and human biology research.”

The College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine Research Office at the University of Edinburgh said that the impact of Professor Wilmut's work "will be felt for generations as it opened up the field of regenerative medicine".