SCIENCE has come a long way in the last half-century, but not as far as some had hoped, or predicted. Fifty years ago today – Saturday, November 14, 1970 – the Glasgow Herald carried a front-page story headed “Artificial life ‘in 20 years’”. We reported that Dr James F Danielli, a biologist and former professor at King’s College, London, had said he had produced a living cell from parts of other cells, and was thinking of creating space age beings to live on Mars. Dr Danielli had said on BBC radio the previous day: “We are entering into a stage when we can synthesise any biological entities, ranging from single cells to societies.”

We were not impressed. “The humblest green plant or insect is immeasurably more complicated than an amoeba,” scoffed our editorial. “When the scientists produce a blade of grass out of chemicals they can expect some interest in their efforts to reorganise the living world. Meanwhile, the rewriting of Genesis in the laboratory need not be taken seriously.”

OK, point taken. Artificial life forms, no, not yet. But fast forward to February 22, 1997, when the world woke up to the sensational news that scientists at the Roslin Institute, Midlothian, headed up by Professor Ian Wilmut (main picture), had produced the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell: Dolly the Sheep.

Dolly captured the public imagination and sparked a huge ethical debate about the possible benefits and dangers of cloning. The prospect of being able to clone human beings was endlessly discussed; it is now possible to clone domestic pets. More seriously, the institute later said: “This knowledge changed what scientists thought was possible and opened up a lot of possibilities in biology and medicine, including the development of personalised stem cells known as iPS cells.”

Dolly lived out her life at the Roslin; over the years she had a total of six lambs with a Welsh Mountain ram called David.

In 2003 a CT scan showed tumours in her lungs and the decision was made to euthanise her. She was taxidermied and is now to be found at the National Museum of Scotland, where she has fascinated visitors, including, in 2010, two-year-old Maisie Ferguson from North Berwick (above).