History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 282–304 | Cite as

Animal breeding in the age of biotechnology: the investigative pathway behind the cloning of Dolly the sheep

  • Miguel García-Sancho


This paper addresses the 1996 cloning of Dolly the sheep, locating it within a long-standing tradition of animal breeding research in Edinburgh. Far from being an end in itself, the cell-nuclear transfer experiment from which Dolly was born should be seen as a step in an investigative pathway that sought the production of medically relevant transgenic animals. By historicising Dolly, I illustrate how the birth of this sheep captures a dramatic redefinition of the life sciences, when in the 1970s and 1980s the rise of neo-liberal governments and the emergence of the biotechnology market pushed research institutions to show tangible applications of their work. Through this broader interpretative framework, the Dolly story emerges as a case study of the deep transformations of agricultural experimentation during the last third of the twentieth century. The reorganisation of laboratory practice, human resources and institutional settings required by the production of transgenic animals had unanticipated consequences. One of these unanticipated effects was that the boundaries between animal and human health became blurred. As a result of this, new professional spaces emerged and the identity of Dolly the sheep was reconfigured, from an instrument for livestock improvement in the farm to a more universal symbol of the new cloning age.


Genetics Cloning Animal Agriculture Dolly Biotechnology 



This paper benefitted from useful comments from the journal and special issue editors, Staffan Müler-Wille and Giuditta Parolini, an anonymous referee and the members of a panel at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the British Society for the History of Science. Institutional and professional support at the University of Edinburgh and Roslin Institute was excellent, especially from Steve Sturdy, Ann Bruce, Grahame Bulfield and Clare Button. The investigations reported in this paper were funded by a Chancellor’s Fellowship and internal conference and research grants awarded by the University of Edinburgh. The final stages of my work were supported by a BBSRC research grant that will enable me to expand the project’s scope.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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