Skip to main content

After Dolly: the uses and abuses of human cloning – Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield *****

More often than not, the most famous individual of an animal species is fictional (think Bugs Bunny, Wiley Coyote and Lassie), but ask most people to name a well-known sheep and they are likely to come up with a very real example – Dolly.
The first artificially cloned animal (though as you will find when reading the book, in one sense, at least, Dolly wasn’t a true clone) was inevitably going to have a lot of publicity surrounding it, and who better to tell the true story of what really happened, and how the scientists got to that stage, than Ian Wilmut, one of the lead scientists at the Roslin Institute where Dolly was produced.
Along the way you will find out fair amount about Wilmut’s personal history, and the many other animals who were in their own way just as important in the chain of discovery as Dolly, but never got the same levels of attention.
If the book had been just this – the inside story of Dolly’s production, life, death and fame – it would have been worth buying, but there is a lot more to it, as the title suggests. In fact the main focus of the book is not on animal cloning but on the much more contentious field of human cloning. Wilmut explores the different types of human cloning, and spends a lot of time on the nature of an embryo when it only consists of a few cells and on the ethics of working with these active human cells. As well as really explaining and exploring the nature and importance of stem cell research, Wilmut gives us the true picture of what would be involved in reproductive cloning – if scientists did produce a true, cloned human being. Not only does he cover the ethical side, he also looks at the practical difficulties, and concludes with most governments that reproductive human cloning should never be attempted. He is, however, very positive and persuasive (some world leaders could do to read this book) about the importance and acceptability of stem cell research.
This book is a real treat to read, and that reflects the combination of Ian Wilmut’s on-the-spot expertise and Roger Highfield’s experience as a professional science writer. So often a book by a scientist can make dull reading, but that’s not the case here. With Highfield’s guidance, Wilmut tells the story in an approachable, personal way and manages to combine his own story, the real facts about Dolly (which are almost always wrong in the press) and some worthwhile thinking on the rights and wrongs of different aspects of human cloning to make this a definitive book in the genre. Highly recommended.

Paperback 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …