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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

The Grange Retirement Home: Full Time Care Team Manager

£22,400: The Grange Retirement Home: This is a key role which requires a sound...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada