Professor Keith Campbell: Biologist who played a leading role in cloning Dolly the sheep

Cloned from a mammary gland cell, the sheep was named in honour of Dolly Parton

Keith Campbell was a one-time medical technician who, after decades exploring the possibilities of cloning, was to the fore in the creation of the world-famous Dolly the sheep. Dolly's emergence in the mid-1990s was hailed as one of the most fascinating and striking scientific breakthroughs for decades. In creating a sensation, it also produced anxieties – as yet unrealised – that it might open the door to a nightmare future of human clones.

The United Nations called on its members to ban human cloning in all its forms while bans were introduced in Canada and Australia and a number of American states. Campbell himself made it clear that he strongly disapproved of human cloning, though he continued with work involving cattle, horses, dogs and other animals.

Dolly the sheep captured the imagination of a generation, her attraction enhanced by her harmless appearance and by the fact that she was named after the voluptuous country and western singer Dolly Parton. One of Campbell's associates explained the unscientific origin of the sheep's name: "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell," he said, "and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's." Campbell revealed that his team, which was based at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, had concentrated on experimenting with sheep "because sheep in Scotland are very, very, very cheap."

He was interested in animals from an early age: it was said of him that as a boy he "used to fill his mother's kitchen with frogs". He was born and brought up in Birmingham, his family later moving to Perth in Scotland, where he developed a love of the outdoors, hill-walking and mountain-biking.

On leaving school he became a medical technician but left for the University of London, where he took a degree in microbiology. A spell working in Yemen was followed by work in Sussex researching the eradication of Dutch elm disease. He went on to the Marie Curie Institute, where he became absorbed in cellular growth, before returning to education to take a doctorate at the University of Sussex.

At Roslin one of the key achievements of his team was the development of a method of unlocking the genetic blueprint carried in individual cells, so that a living animal could be reconstructed from a single cell. Campbell wrote later: "At this time it was known that the majority of cells within an adult contain an intact genome; however, many scientists were sceptical that the nuclei of such cells could be reprogrammed to control development. Stubbornly, I always believed that such technology was possible."

A year before Dolly was born, the Roslin team cloned two sheep, which they named Megan and Morag, in the laboratory from embryonic cells. But although this was a major breakthrough, it excited curiously little public interest. The business of producing Dolly began with the removal of more than 400 eggs from ewes and filling them with cells from an udder. But only one developed successfully. This was Dolly, who was born on 5 July 1996. When her existence was revealed some months later the level of interest was sensational and she instantly became the world's most famous sheep.

The initial explosion of attention was followed by a wave of moral and ethical debate on the wisdom of following a path which might lead to the cloning of humans. Campbell dismissed such speculation as unrealistic. "There are groups that believe that life begins at conception and that you should not do any research involving embryos at all," he once said. But he added that once the potential benefits were understood his techniques would meet with more approval.

He argued that this line of research would lead to important health advances in areas such as age-related diseases and the development of new therapies for both humans and animals. It could lead, he said, to preserving the genetics of endangered species, for example. In 1999 he left Roslin to become professor of animal development at Nottingham University, where he continued his cloning research. In the years that followed his collaborator, Ian Wilmut, received a knighthood which some scientists protested should have gone Campbell. Wilmut himself acknowledged that he had played a lesser role than Campbell, who he said "deserves 66 per cent of the credit for Dolly."

Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham University, paid tribute. "Keith was a brilliant scientist," he said. "His work was genuinely transformational and inspirational, his pioneering research was revolutionary."

Dolly went on to give birth to four lambs, though her death at the age of six, an early age for sheep, gave rise to speculation that cloning could result in a reduced life expectancy. Her death was however attributed to a progressive lung disease. Her preserved body was placed on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

In 2008 Campbell shared the Shaw Prize for medicine and life sciences, which was worth $1 million. The award has a motto particularly appropriate for Campbell – "Grasp the law of nature and make use of it."

Professor Keith Campbell, biologist: Professor of Animal Development, Nottingham University 1999-; born Birmingham 23 May 1954; married Kathryn; two daughters; died 5 October 2012.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week