Professor Sir Ian Wilmut

Ian Wilmut

The son of two teachers, Ian was born near Stratford-upon-Avon before the family moved to Yorkshire. It was at school in Scarborough that Ian first became interested in biology. After school, Ian went to the University of Nottingham, initially to study Agriculture, but switched to Animal Science after being inspired by researchers at the University.

In 1966, Ian went to the University of Cambridge for a summer internship in Professor Christopher Polge’s lab, doing work on animal embryos. After graduating from Nottingham the following year, Ian returned to Professor Polge’s lab to do a PhD and subsequent fellowship on the preservation of semen and embryos by freezing. This work led to the birth of Frostie, the first calf to be born from a frozen embryo.

Ian then moved to the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO), the predecessor to The Roslin Institute. At ABRO, he continued to work with reproductive cells and embryos and became involved in a project to make genetically modified sheep which produced milk which contained proteins which could be used to treat human diseases. Among these sheep was Tracy, who produced very high (or commercially useful) concentrations of human protein in her milk.

As the project progressed, it became clear that a new, more efficient method of making these sheep was needed and Ian led efforts to develop cloning, or nuclear transfer, techniques that could be used to make genetically modified sheep. It was these efforts which led to the births of Megan and Morag in 1995 and Dolly in 1996, before Polly, the first mammal to be both cloned and genetically modified, was born in 1997.

Following the success of the cloning research, Ian began to focus on using cloning to make stem cells which could be used in regenerative medicine. He moved to the University of Edinburgh in 2005, becoming the first Director of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine the following year. He is now Professor Emeritus at the Centre, where he is part of a group that is investigating the molecular mechanisms that regulate the reprogramming of cells, with the aim of increasing the efficiency and accuracy of this process.

See Professor Wilmut’s portrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s collection