In defence of Sir Ian Wilmut's honour

February 7, 2008

You reported on the petition directed against the knighthood awarded to Sir Ian Wilmut ("Wilmut knighthood enrages former team", 31 January). I was director and chief executive of the Roslin Institute (and its predecessor) from 1988 to 2002 when the experiments to clone Dolly the sheep were planned, executed and published. I have a note of a meeting I had with Sir Ian on 7 December 1988, two weeks after my appointment, when he outlined his plans for future research, which were to try to develop embryo stem cells in farm animals and develop nuclear transfer in sheep (the technique used to clone Dolly).

Between 1988 and the publication of the Dolly paper in 1997, Sir Ian raised the funding for this research and recruited, trained and led the team to carry out all the complicated animal, cell biology and embryo manipulation techniques required. This was very much a team effort but led academically and inspired by Sir Ian. Indeed, I think Sir Ian has himself understated his role in this research.

All the publications that came out of the research were multi-authored with various first authors, as is usual for team research; these authorships had my approval as director.

None of the four signatories to the petition was a member of the cloning team or of Sir Ian's research group: two were members of a group that was not recruited until 1999, well after the experiments that led to the cloning of Dolly and two years after the publication of the 1997 paper. The other two signatories were not research scientists and were in different areas of Roslin: one was a bioinformatician appointed after the completion of the cloning project and the other was the then manager of the Roslin Poultry Farm. Therefore none of the four signatories' knowledge of the project, leading up to the cloning of Dolly, is first-hand or proximate.

Grahame Bulfield, Vice-principal and head, College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh.

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