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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Dolly scientists target biomedical research
Dolly the sheep BBC
Roslin scientists created Dolly the sheep in 1996
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Dolly the sheep might never have been created if current attitudes to genetically modified food had prevailed in the 1990s.

An institute likes ours can no longer sustain itself entirely on agricultural research

Grahame Bulfield, Roslin Institute
The pioneering Roslin Institute, which made the famous clone, says public hostility towards GM food in the UK has forced it to reassess its research goals.

It intends to focus on biomedical applications of cloning technology rather than pure agricultural research like that which led to Dolly.

"An institute likes ours can no longer sustain itself entirely on agricultural research," Professor Grahame Bulfield told BBC News Online.

"We have decided we need to build on our strengths by developing products for use in the biomedical industry," he added.

Political climate 'unfriendly'

The Roslin Institute, based near Edinburgh, sprang to fame in 1997 when it announced it had cloned Dolly.

It is now one of the world's leading centres for genetic research on farm animals.

However, agricultural research has fallen over the years and now comprises only 20% of its work, compared with 70% in the early 1990s.

The Roslin blames a dwindling agricultural research budget for its change in policy, as well as public and political attitudes to GM foods.

"The political climate in agriculture hasn't been particularly friendly," Professor Bulfield said.

Instead, the Roslin will focus on biomedical research based on stem cells and nuclear transfer.

Divided values

Professor Bulfield believes the public is prepared to accept medical applications of such technology.

"People will permit technology to be used in producing drugs that they would be uncomfortable being used in agriculture," he said.

It will mean that some potential applications of genetics in farming will not be pursued at present, by the Roslin at least.

It might be possible, for example, to genetically engineer chickens so that they do not carry food poisoning bugs like salmonella.

The Roslin says there would be little point in trying to do this, if no-one would want to eat the end result.

See also:

24 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
UK research 'falling behind'
10 Apr 00 | Scotland
Dolly firm records 14m loss
21 Dec 97 | Sci/Tech
First there was Dolly...
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