The dramatic controversy around the cloning of Dolly the sheep tended to eclipse its original place within the research agenda at the Roslin Institute. Despite her celebrity, she was a side project within a long line of research into "biopharming", synthesising drugs in the milk of genetically modified sheep. The biopharming programme was one of the earliest examples of extending mammalian genetic engineering, first reported in mice in 1980, to farm animals. Roslin's precursor, the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO), had dealt with classical genetic research and designed breeding programmes, but shifted its focus towards biotechnology in the early 1980s as it was singled out for major downsizing during the first wave of Thatcher's cuts. In this crisis environment, molecular biologists were recruited and new institutional alliances forged, which affected ABRO's species make-up.
ABRO had routinely worked with sheep, pigs and cattle, although its methods had not been necessarily comparative. Introduction of molecular biology brought mice to the forefront, as both models for achieving genetic modification and as cheap and fast means of testing DNA constructs before proceeding to sheep. This arrangement had to be negotiated in a period of financial uncertainty, as mouse infrastructure had to be integrated with the world of experimental farms. Initially, humans featured as sources of DNA, as well as imagined patients. As the work became more public, journalists, ethicists and policy-makers also envisioned them as potential subjects of the very techniques the animals had been subject to, most dramatically after Dolly's birth. This paper examines these transitions across species at the levels of experiment and communication. We argue that, as market incentives became dominant and public funding uncertain, novel arrangements to work across species had to be improvised, maintained or downplayed, resulting in alternative modes of comparative research.
Miguel Garcia-Sancho is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests are in the history of contemporary biomedicine. A paperback edition of his book Biology, Computing and the History of Molecular Sequencing: From Proteins to DNA was recently published by Palgrave-Macmillan.
Dmitriy Myelnikov is a Research Fellow in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He holds a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, and specializes in the history of genetically modified animals