Keith was born in Birmingham and spent his early childhood in Perth, Scotland. He began his scientific career as a Medical Lab Technologist at Selly Oak Hospital before earning his BSc in Microbiology from Queen Elizabeth College, now part of King’s College London. It was during his BSc that Keith first became fascinated in how cells grow and multiply through the cell cycle.
Following posts in labs in Yemen and England, Keith joined the cytogenetics research group at the Marie Curie Institute in Oxted, Surrey and studied studied the control of cell growth and specialisation (differentiation) into different cell types. In 1983, Keith was awarded a Marie Curie Research Scholarship and moved to the University of Sussex to research the control of the cell cycle in cells from frogs and yeast. His D.Phil thesis “Aspects of cell cycle control in Yeast and Xenopus” explained that the ways in which the cell cycle is controlled are shared across cells from different species.
Keith then moved to Scotland to continue his career and pursue his hobbies of mountain biking and hill walking. He joined The Roslin Institute in 1991 to develop a method to clone animals using nuclear transfer, where his previous experience working with cancer cells, yeast and frog cells to cells from mammals and knowledge of the cell cycle came to the fore.
At the time, many scientists believed that DNA from an adult cell could not be used to make a new animal. However, Keith’s research (which included a method called “MAGIC”) made a major contribution to the successful production of Morag and Megan, the first mammals to be cloned from embryonic cells, in 1995 and Dolly, the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell, in 1996.
Shortly after Dolly’s birth, Keith joined the biotech company PPL Therapeutics as a consultant before becoming Head of Embryology. During his time at PPL, he was involved in the work which produced Polly, the first genetically modified (GM) animal to be made by cloning. Keith also played a role in the births of Cupid and Diana, the world’s first gene targeted lambs as well as the production of the world’s first cloned pigs in 2000.
In 1999, Keith became Professor of Animal Development at the University of Nottingham, where he continued his studies into the growth and specialisation of cells during early development. He also continued his work to understand and improve the process of cloning and regularly presented his work to scientific and public audiences, as well as working with the media.
With great loss to his family, friends and the scientific community, sadly Keith passed away in October 2012.