Hello Dolly

Science + ScotlandLast week I went to Edinburgh for the first time. I gave a talk on Friday and another in Newcastle on Monday. So, I stayed in Edinburgh for the weekend.

On my weekend off I explored Edinburgh. I saw the castle, the National Museum of Scotland, and a bagpipe player. I even caught a movie that was set in Edinburgh. It was all very cultural. But Edinburgh is also a hotbed of science, and I inevitably came across some of it.

For example, I randomly passed this sign on the side of a modern hotel that says it had been the location of the Royal Medical Society from 1852 to 1956, “where many Edinburgh medical men delivered their first scientific dissertation.”


But the National Museum of Scotland was where most of the science was. There was a display about the history of the earth, with lots of fossils.

National Museum of Scotland

There was a hall jam-packed  full of animal skeletons and models, three floors high.

National Museum of Scotland

This is the jaw of a blue whale, with an elephant added for scale:

National Museum of Scotland

Here’s a robot making words out of alphabet blocks:

I spent a few hours in the museum, and on my way out, in the gift shop, I realised I had missed something. I completely forgot that she was from Edinburgh, but museum gift shop paraphernalia reminded me that Dolly the sheep was here!

I walked back in the museum to find Dolly, and of course she was right in the middle of a room I already passed through. On my first pass, I had been too distracted by the robots to see Dolly.


Dolly was cloned at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where she spent her entire life, from 1996 to 2003. Dolly’s claim to fame is that she was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell. In her case, it was a cell from a mammary gland, which inspired the research team to name her after Dolly Parton.


Dolly was only six when she died, and that’s young for a sheep. She had to be euthanised because she had developed severe arthritis and lung disease. Scientists have since speculated that perhaps Dolly’s short lifespan was related to her being cloned. The tips of her chromosomes (telomeres) were shorter than in most non-cloned sheep. Telomeres naturally shorten with age, and Dolly’s shorter telomeres would have been a result of cloning her from an adult cell. But the Roslin Institute’s website says “Although Dolly’s telomeres appeared shorter than other sheep of a similar age they certainly were not of an old animal. Extensive health screens carried out at the time failed to identify any abnormality with Dolly that would suggest premature aging.”

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