April 20, 2011
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ian Wilmut is best known as the leader of the research team that, in 1996, produced the famous sheep “Dolly,” the first mammal cloned with genetic material from an adult cell. His achievements in animal cloning and gene expression have revolutionized scientific thinking and paved the way for genetic engineering in what Wilmut calls the “age of biological control.” For his unprecedented work, University of Missouri officials presented Wilmut with an honorary degree during the May 2011 Honors Commencement Ceremony.
“Wilmut is definitely one of the world’s most outstanding scientists in his field,” said Billy Day, a University of Missouri professor emeritus who has known Wilmut for 44 years. “Both before and after his international recognition for this research, he was an important friend and willing colleague of UM personnel.”
Wilmut, born in England in 1944, became interested in animal science at the University of Nottingham before earning a doctorate at Darwin College of the University of Cambridge. His attention turned from cryopreservation to cloning after he joined Scotland’s Roslin Institute.
In 1996, he used his somatic cell nuclear transplant technique to construct embryos containing adult cell nuclei. These were implanted into surrogate mothers, one of which gave birth to Dolly, named after singer Dolly Parton. The next year, he proved the feasibility of the idea of using cloning to introduce genetic material from another species with the birth of “Polly,” a cloned sheep genetically altered to contain a human gene.
In addition to animal cloning, as head of the Department of Gene Expression and Development at the Roslin Institute, Wilmut has studied the mechanisms controlling embryonic development in humans. He became chair of reproductive biology at the University of Edinburgh in 2005 and directs the Medical Research Council’s Center for Regenerative Medicine.
“Ian has continued to diversify his work as the potential for cloning technologies became clear,” said R. Michael Roberts, Curators’ Professor of Animal Science and Biochemistry at MU. “He has become a central figure in attempts to use human embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes and an important spokesman for inclusion of proper bioethical guidelines in the life sciences.”
Honorary degrees are awarded to graduates or former students who have achieved distinction. Degrees also are awarded to people who have rendered distinctive service to the state or the university, as well as people of high distinction from around the world.