(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gina Kolata, science journalist for THE NEW YORK TIMES, broke the initial story about the cloning of a sheep named Dolly. On the scene in the Scottish hamlet where embryologist Ian Wilmut had performed this extraordinary feat, Kolata reported extensively on Dolly for her newspaper. CLONE: THE ROAD TO DOLLY AND THE PATH AHEAD presents an extended account of this event along with a truncated history of embryology and an overview of the many fraudulent claims made in the past about cloning.

The thought that immediately leaped into people’s minds with the cloning of Dolly was that science was now only a short step from cloning human beings. The religious, philosophical, bioethical, and economic dilemmas that such a possibility posed resulted in heated debate about cloning, a debate heightened by physicist Richard Seed’s attempt to secure private funding to clone a human being, threatening if he could not do so in the United States to go to another country more hospitable to his project.

In Washington, the Federal Food and Drug Administration asserted its authority over human cloning. Congress moved toward enacting legislation to ban it. President Bill Clinton declared himself a staunch opponent of this seemingly unnatural process. For many people, Huxley’s brave new world had suddenly arrived, replete with all its frightening implications.

Kolata’s book is readable and easily understood by people lacking a background in biotechnology. Her research is extensive and accurately presented. Her arguments are cogent, objective, and balanced. This first book on the cloning of Dolly is a commendable beginning. Other books on the subject will follow but few more enticing than Kolata’s.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, December 1, 1997, p. 596.

Business Week. February 2, 1998, p. 16.

Issues in Science and Technology. XIV, Spring, 1998, p. 90.

Library Journal. CXXII, November 15, 1997, p. 73.

Natural History. CVII, September, 1998, p. 11.

The New England Journal of Medicine. CCCXXXIX, July 9, 1998, p. 134.

New Scientist. CLVI, November 29, 1997, p. 52.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, April 23, 1998, p. 14.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, December 28, 1997, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, November 3, 1997, p. 69.


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In the December, 1984, issue of Science, James McGrath and Davor Solter, well-recognized scientists, wrote, “The cloning of mammals, by simple nuclear transfer, is biologically impossible.” On July 5, 1996, around 5:00 in the evening in the hamlet of Roslin, Scotland, a few miles south of Edinburgh, the birth of Dolly disproved this prognostication. Dolly, a sheep cloned by taking cells from the udder of a donor sheep, growing them in a petri dish, inserting them into a sheep’s egg from which the nucleus had been extracted, and implanting them in a host sheep, was a living reality.

This feat was accomplished by embryologist Ian Wilmut, who worked for more than a decade on the research project that eventuated in Dolly. Bent over a microscope for long hours in a cubicle heated to the exact internal temperature of a sheep, Wilmut, sponsored by PPL Therapeutics, Limited, was hired to develop designer animals as a source of pharmaceuticals for human use. He sought ways to create genetic defects in animals that could be studied to find ways of dealing with comparable defects in humans. He sought means through genetic manipulation of causing animals to produce antibodies that, permeating their milk, could be used to attack diseases. The drugs resulting from these antibodies could be extracted and sold by PPL.

News of Dolly’s birth was withheld from the public until February, 1997, because PPL had patents pending to protect Wilmut’s revolutionary accomplishment. Those involved in the experiment at the Roslin Institute were sworn to secrecy until the patents were granted. By early 1997, however, these scientists had prepared a brief paper reporting on their research and its results, that was disarmingly titled, “Viable Offspring Derived from Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells.” They submitted it to the scientific weekly Nature, which scheduled it for publication in its February 27, 1997, issue.

As was customary, Nature informed the press of cogent articles in each forthcoming issue a week before the distribution of that issue. On February 20, when Nature’s report arrived in Kolata’s e-mail box at The New York Times, she first learned of an event whose scientific and social impact is compared by some to splitting the atom or breaking the sound barrier.

Journalists receiving advanced information from Nature agree not to break any stories about articles scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue until it has been distributed. If, however, a story breaks somewhere earlier, journalists are no longer bound by Nature’s mandate. Kolata recognized the importance and possible consequences of a story about cloning a mammal as complex as a sheep, realizing that if such a mammal can be cloned, human cloning is not far behind. She informed her editors of the anticipated impact of the Nature article and prepared a detailed piece for publication after the distribution of the February 27 issue of Nature. The story broke in Great Britain on February 22, thereby relieving Kolata of the restraint imposed by Nature. Her account made the first page of The New York Times second edition the following day. Kolata wrote another first-page story, this one considering the theological and ethical implications of cloning.

If the first shot fired at the Battle of Lexington was “the shot heard round the world,” the birth of Dolly was the birth reported round the world. Embryologists and molecular biologists in the farthest reaches of the planet quickly learned of this monumental event and reacted to it, their voices joined by those of physicians, theologians, bioethicists, politicians, and entrepreneurs who saw in the announcement promise of making a quick buck. Ian Wilmut became an international celebrity overnight. The shock waves sent out by Dolly’s birth reached well beyond Roslin and Dr. Wilmut. The Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, had typically received about five hundred Internet hits a month, but after Dolly was born it was fielding up to seventeen thousand a day.

In Clone, Gina Kolata writes with an admirable gusto about an event with far-reaching consequences, the details of which unfold like those in a well-crafted mystery story. Kolata was the first journalist to talk with Ian Wilmut after Dolly’s birth. She also spoke with a broad spectrum of people from disciplines that would be directly affected by the cloning of a complex mammal—embryologists, molecular biologists, philosophers, theologians, bioethicists, and...

(The entire section is 1890 words.)