Dolly the Sheep

by | Authenticity (↓) | Skill (↑) | 1 comment | 2 questions

The first mammal to have been successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell (somatic being the name given to any cell other than reproductive cells). Cloning means Dolly has the same DNA sequence as parent, so are genetically identical.
Dolly is perhaps the most famous clone; although clones had been produced in a laboratory before, she was the first to have been cloned from an adult rather than embryonic cell. She was the only lamb born from 277 cells. Dolly's creation groundbreakingly showed that the nucleus of an adult somatic cell can still revert to a cellular state called 'totipotent', when a single cell can divide and create all cells in an organism.

She was born on the 5th July 1996 at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh. She lived for 6 years, mating and producing offspring 'normally', but was euthanised after a severe, degenerative lung condition- living about half the life-expectancy of a 'normal' sheep. However, her legacy goes on, and her existence has made way for advances in cloning and cellular technology/knowledge. These advances may even lead to a potential treatment for mitochondrial diseases in humans.

Where and how is it used?

In scientific laboratories, in teaching, in museums, in potential medicine and genetic possibilities.

What did you or someone else pay for it?

Estimated to have cost approximately £500,000 to clone Dolly

Why do you want to add it to the museum?

Because it's one of the most famous genetic breakthroughs of the last 20 years, but also a controversial one.
Because it is an example of the possibilities that science and medicine can reach.
Because of the future hope and potential (both good and bad) it offers.

How was it made?

Is made in a factory

Is farmed

Is mass-produced

Is produced by local cottage industry

Is made to particular specifications

Is craft / hand-made

Is foraged

Is found

Is colonised

Is a service

Materials & Making

Who made or produced your commodity?

Scientists at Roslin Institute, Edinburgh

Who was paid to make it?

Not answered yet

What skills does it take to make it?

Serious genetic and cellular knowledge

Where was it made?


What does it cost to make it?


What is it made from?

Buying & Owning

Who decides how much it costs?

Not answered yet

Who or what assesses its quality?

Not answered yet

Where is it sold?

Not answered yet

Who or what sells it?

Not answered yet

How did this thing arrive from where it was made to where you got it?

Not answered yet

Where is it used?

In museums, in text-books, in teaching and learning, in genetic research

Where is it kept?

National Museum of Scotland

How and by whom is it cared for?

Curators, researchers, scientists

How long will it last?

Not answered yet

Where will it go when it's finished with?

Not answered yet

What is it worth?

Invaluable for scientific discovery and potential

How do you and others value this commodity?

See the values contributed by visitors and those of the donor. And add your own values to this commodity.

Total times valued2
Positive (↑)Skill
Negative (↓)Authenticity
Overall Positive99
Overall Negative-144
Controversy54.75 (0 = most controversial)

What do these numbers mean?

This data that we have collected over time in our database means nothing without interpretation. A relational database, which we are using here, is technology that enables designers of websites and software to compare, contrast, interrogate and infer relations within data. The act of designing a database is not objective but driven by the agency of its creators and owners.

Within the MoCC Collection data is used to help think through the relations between values, commodities and data. Can we describe our values using sliders and numbers? How do we infer meaning such as controversy from data?

Below is a brief explanation of the some calculations and how these help make decisions about what is shown on the site.

  • Controversy Score:
    (Total Positive Values) + (Total Negative Values)

    The closer the value is to zero the more controversial it is in relation to other commodities. Used to infer that values associated with one commodity divide opinion more than another.

  • Average Value Score (used in the sliders):
    (Total Positive for Value + Total Negative for Value) ÷ Total Times Valued

    Used to infer a collective value associated with a commodity.

How do you value this commodity?

To add your own values click VALUE THIS COMMODITY and move the sliders left and right to add your own values - then click SUBMIT
show donor's original values
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Questions and answers

Help to reveal unknown quantities, properties and uses of this commodity by answering this MoCC curator's questions.

Question: Should we be 'commodifying' Dolly's body in a museum?


Hi I’m Lizzie and I’ll be your Commodity Consultant for this afternoon,

This is such a live and important debate, thank you so much for your awesome question!

If there’s anything that I’ve discovered about taxidermy, it’s that people have very extreme emotions when it comes to animals, and taxidermy gets into ongoing debates surrounding animal rights. The first thing that I want to say is that I think, for the most part, and in most circumstances, you mustn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about your position in this debate but rather the focus instead should be on stimulating conversation and opening ourselves to different points of view.

I wont lie taxidermy usually makes me squeamish (perhaps it’s because I’m a vegetarian, although I always had an abnormal fear of modelled people as a child after a very bizarre encounter with them in a children’s play area on a caravan holiday in Belgium as a kid, but that’s a story for another day…). Yet,
lots of natural history museums (the Smithsonian, the National History Museum, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum) devote a lot of floor space to dead animals, stuffed and posed so the issue is a bit more complex than the squeem (?) factor.

In one sentence I think the issues at sake here stem down to what purpose Dolly’s body is being used for in the museum and whether you agree with that. Although, of course there are many more nuances in the use of Dolly’s body that should be unpacked e.g. whether Dolly could consent to this, or would she have consented? What does Dolly represent? Even how do we value life and death?
If you want a more detailed response, I think it’s right that we start with a very brief history of taxidermy….

The essence of taxidermy isn’t anything new – the ancient Egyptians embalmed and preserved humans after death. However, it was in the 19th century that the beginnings of taxidermy really took form. Back in the 1800s, when scientists used taxidermy to study exotic animals. Today, the practice is gradually ‘dying out’, thanks to advances in photography, field research and preservation (a whole animal suspended in alcohol is often much more useful than a dried out husk of one). The idea of taxidermy has long been linked to trophy hunting, killing ‘rare’, often large, predators as ‘trophies’. For many years these taxidermy animals were often used as mascots for museums and decorated seasonally, or posed in rather compromising positions. I think such commodification of animals is wrong – however, over time, museums have, on large, taken a more respectful tone, often with a message of conservation and often reject new taxidermy offerings. Although, perhaps anti ivory trade messages are a little mixed next to a white rhino… Source:

Now back to Dolly…

As a little bit of background, Dolly the sheep was the first adult mammal to be successfully cloned and died in February 2003. When taxidermists finished their work, the body of the preserved Dolly was put on display at the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

According to a report by Reuters, a spokeswoman for the Royal Museum said that Dolly's “looking great. She’s on all fours and her head is slightly tilted to one side. She used to get a lot of human visitors, and that’s the expression she always used to great them’ – is this an example of Dolly being posed in a humorous position for entertainment purposes, or is this an attempt to respect her individuality and personality?

This can be answered from a variety of perspectives surrounding the question ‘why display Dolly?’

Those arguing that it is wrong to display Dolly’s ‘body’ might disagree with the message she presents…

Researchers Astounded... Fiction Becomes True" and "Dreaded Possibilities Are Raised" was the quaint way that one newspaper, the New York Times, greeted Dolly. But it was not the only one to sound the alarm: other headlines included "Cloning Discovery Has Unleashed a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing", "Cloned Sheep in Nazi Storm", "Dolly Opens Door for Life After Death", "The Clone Rangers Need to be Stopped" and "Golly, Dolly! It's the Abolition of Man".

A scientist described that when they created her, ‘we had not been thinking about rooms full of clones, or creating hillock upon hillock of identical sheep to guarantee a good night's sleep. We were not thinking about helping lesbians to reproduce without the help of a sperm bank or about multiplying movie stars. We were certainly not thinking of duplicating dictators. We were spurred on mostly by pure curiosity, though we did have in mind practical applications in research and agriculture’. – does Dolly stand for the excess of Man?

However, others were convinced that Dolly was something special, and there was talk of her creation being biology's equivalent of the splitting of the atom.

Nevertheless, Newspapers asked whether it would be possible to clone the dead. Some deluded souls saw Dolly as a harbinger of a form of genetic immortality; many more were fired up by the talk of a looming ethical and political nightmare. Inevitably, Dr Frankenstein's creation provided a cultural reference point for the discussion.

Those supporting Dolly’s taxidermy might argue that it was what Dolly wanted! That Dolly’s taxidermy form just shows a Diva sheep living out her glory days – as any diva would want – immortalised and worshiped

Unfortunately for her peers, Dolly apparently behaved as if she were already aware of her celebrity status. As one scientist responsible for looking Dolly stated ‘ She was greedy and would often grab more than her fair share of the "cake" - made of barley and molasses - that we fed them. And she would assert her authority by upending her trough as soon as she finished eating. This display of dominance would culminate with her placing her forefeet on the trough, puffing out her chest, and preening.
She seemed to know that she was the alpha sheep of the flock. Whereas most sheep are shy and huddle at the back of their pen when visitors arrive, Dolly would trot to the front of her stall and bask in their attention. Then she would bleat excitedly and jump up, front feet on the railing, to pose for the cameras. It was distinctly odd ovine behaviour: sheep do not normally stand on their rear legs.
Certainly, Dolly was as interested in and curious about the world around her as a sheep can be. Bill Ritchie, who selected the cell we used to create her, would shout her name as he approached - and get a deep answering bleat from the shed.’

Displaying Dolly, for me, is perhaps to hammer the point about our commonalities with mammals.

So, at the crux of all of this is the question is taxidermy ethical?
Often the fact that the animal died of ‘old age’ (Dolly was euthanized in 2003 when se developed a progressive lung disease) and was not shot makes a lot of people more comfortable about the idea of taxidermy –, Dolly died of old age, would your opinion change if she was shot, what do you think?

Her death seemed to be treated with respect by those who knew her, with one scientist describing ‘The Monday after Dolly's death, I held a wake at the Roslin, where we toasted her with Champagne. Her demise was particularly sad for those who had been present when she began life in a Petri dish and had often visited her in her stall. Even today, when I pass the barn where Dolly lived, I am reminded of her.’

However, many others argue that cloning was to blame for her death. Typically, sheep can live for 11 or 12 years, yet Dolly had managed only six.

The scientists who worked with Dolly respond to these claims by arguing that her progressive lung disease probably said more about being kept in a barn than about being cloned. The post-mortem revealed a specimen that was unremarkable for a middle-aged sheep with a weight problem.

Ultimately I’ve only managed to discuss certain points and much more could be said about Dolly, lets discuss it in the comments! However, it is just my opinion that while they still creep me out, taxidermy clearly can spark an appreciation and a sense of wonder about the natural world.

Hope this helps!


Quotes used come from an edited extract from 'After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning' (Little Brown), by Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield. 

by LizzieH on August 27th at 3:04pm

Question: What do you think about cloning?


Oooh what a thought provoking question,

I’m no expert in this area but I can give you my honest opinions!

The topic that often provokes the most debate is human cloning, after all we already possess much of the technology needed to clone humans – think Dolly the sheep- so why don’t we!? ( I think I’m with most mainstream scientists when I say that I’m personally against attempts at reproductive human cloning due to the risks it presents. The argument I found most persuasive in this respect was that there’s a fear that human cloning would be cruel, because the process could result in a large number of miscarriages and deformities before a human could be successfully cloned – it took a massive 272 attempts to create Dolly. Also, even if a successful human could be cloned there’s no guarantee of ongoing good health and the idea of cloning dead people and seeking eternal life makes my head spin (and gives me a large dose of the hebe jebes *shudders*). Other reasons for banning human cloning include fears that cloning humans will lead to “designer babies” with genetic traits selected by their parents, or a black market for embryos, and the creation of a “genetic underclass”. You can read more about these arguments in this fabulous article by Jane Perrone here,

Personally, I think there are definitely some strong reasons as to why cloning should be considered. Cloned donor organs could eradicate genetic disease.  It could also aid in faster recovery from traumatic injuries. For people who became quadriplegic due to horrific traffic accidents and professional athletes who tore their ACLs, recovery time could be long or it is even impossible for them to get back to their original state. However, cloning their own cells can lower recovery time and true healing could occur.

I think the question that stumps me the most with this debate is whether we should assess the pros and cons of cloning in terms of individual or societal benefits, or is it possible to look at both simultaneously?

Certainly a controversial question that provokes discussion! I’m looking forward to reading the comments!


If you want to explore these ideas further take a look at these awesome links,

by LizzieH on August 27th at 3:29pm


Do you have questions about how this commodity is valued? Or want to talk about your own values in relation to it? Share your comments.

Why was Dolly called Dolly?

by LizzieH on August 27th at 5:08pm

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