Cloned sheep happily entering their golden years at the University of Nottingham are relatively healthy, new research has found, giving credit to scientific theories that cloning does not lead to accelerated aging. The findings come two decades after the birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, who was put down at the age of 6 with a range of health issues.
Since Dolly’s birth and death, officials and communities worldwide have grappled with the ethics and science of cloning, with many authorities banning the practice in one form or another. Countries including Canada and Australia outlawed animal cloning, the United Nations banned all human cloning and the EU imposed restrictions on cloning related to food imports, The New York Times reports.
In the new research, cloned sheep aged 7 to 9 years underwent an examination of vital systems, along with tests for obesity, hypertension, osteoarthritis, glucose intolerance, insulin sensitivity and other maladies. They were found to mostly be healthy at an age equivalent to between 60 and 70 years of age for a human, according to a press release from the University of Nottingham. Four of the cloned sheep in the study were created from the same cell line as Dolly was.
Led by the school’s Professor Kevin Sinclair and published in Nature Communications, the study could prompt further discussion and experimentation in cloning. While the somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) process remains inefficient, Sinclair said in the release that advancements “could lead to the realistic prospect of using SCNT to generate stem cells for therapeutic purposes in humans.” (For more from Sinclair, see the video below.)
Dolly was originally created by the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, which continues to pioneer new cellular engineering and gene-editing technologies, many of which are aimed at improving animal health. Earlier this year, Roslin introduced pigs that are genetically engineered to resist African swine fever and chickens that are immune from avian flu. In March, it launched the company Roslin Technologies, which will commercialize some of its inventions.
As for Sinclair, he believes that improvements in cloning and other technologies could lead to “generating transgenic animals that are healthy, fertile and productive,” he said in the release from the University of Nottingham. “However, if these biotechnologies are going to be used in future we need to continue to test their safety.”