Wilmut knighthood enrages former team

Ex-colleagues petition Buckingham Palace for honour to be revoked, writes Zoe Corbyn.

January 31, 2008

The admission by Sir Ian Wilmut in 2006 that he did not personally create Dolly the sheep set tongues wagging across the world of science. His name had been synonymous with the breakthrough that led to the first clone from an adult mammal, but he made clear that his role was a supervisory one.

So when Sir Ian was knighted at New Year for "services to science", controversy was to be expected.

The latest rumblings have come in the form of a petition to the Queen requesting that his knighthood be revoked. It is signed by four former employees of the Roslin Institute, where Dolly was created in 1997.

"Wilmut's knighthood is seen as the crowning insult to honest endeavour," they write, adding that their sentiment is shared by others who signed severance deals with Roslin. "Roslin, the University of Edinburgh and Scotland are all tarnished with this grant. We beg reconsideration."

Leading the petition is Prim Singh, a molecular biologist with a history of conflict with Sir Ian. Dr Singh, a principal investigator at the Leibnitz Centre for Medicine and Biosciences in Germany, won an unfair dismissal case against Roslin in 2006. But all his allegations against Sir Ian personally, including race discrimination, were dismissed by the same tribunal and are now the subject of an appeal.

The other signatories are Jeremy Brown, now a staff scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in the US; Pauline Ward, a former bio-informatician at Roslin; and Douglas Currie, managing director of Roslin Nutrition, a private company spun out of the institute.

It was at Dr Singh's tribunal hearing in Edinburgh that the revelations about Dolly's origin emerged.

Speaking at the tribunal, Sir Ian admitted that he did not develop the technology or conduct the experiments that produced Dolly, but rather played only a supervisory role. Asked directly if the statement "I did not create Dolly" was accurate, he replied "yes".

Dr Singh told Times Higher Education he was baffled as to what services Sir Ian had given to science. "He has admitted he isn't the brains behind Dolly, and to then go on and award him a knighthood reflects very badly on Scottish science."

Sir Ian, who is now director of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said in a prepared statement that he was aware of the petition to the Queen but the terms of the letter published by Dr Singh did "not accord with any of the evidence led at the employment tribunal and in relation to which a full judgment was issued".

"I am further puzzled that the letter (petition) appears to be signed by at least one individual who to the best of my belief can have no knowledge whatsoever of the allegations contained therein," he said.

He added that he had "no part" in the actual dismissal of Dr Singh and that while the appeal hearing on racial discrimination was taking place it would be "inappropriate ... to respond to the latest allegations".

The petition has gone to the Cabinet Office for consideration.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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