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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss