The creator of Dolly the Sheep has unveiled his plans to create a “perfect” cloned animal within a decade, and vowed to carry out his work in Scotland.

Dr Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, believes he can switch off the biological clock at the heart of a cloned cell, avoiding the problems of premature ageing that afflicted Dolly.

Wilmut has just been given Germany’s top science prize – including an award of £70,000 – for his work on the world’s first cloned sheep, which was born in 1996.

The scientist revealed he has turned down offers to take his leading edge research abroad and will carry on working in Scotland, which he says has a world-beating team and facilities at Roslin.

And while Wilmut is determined to create the perfect cloned animal, he says the creature will not be another sheep but probably a mouse.

Wilmut, in an exclusive interview with Scotland on Sunday, admitted that while cloning mammals is now a reality, the process is plagued by problems.

One of the most serious is the ‘biological clock’ which seems to be imbedded in the nuclei of cells, which can switch various processes on or off, and tells the cell itself to die. For example, it will enable processes to accelerate growth in young children, or produce sexual hormones at puberty.

In cloning, it means that when a nucleus is transferred to an oocyte, or egg cell, elements of the cell act as if they were the same age as the organism they came from. While this is no problem if the cells are taken from young creatures, it means that cloning from adults is plagued with problems.

In the case of Dolly, whose genetic material was taken from a ewe, the clock effect was linked to her arthritis and lung cancer. Dolly died aged six, compared with a typical sheep life span of 10 to 16 years.

The crucial step, says Wilmut, is to figure out how to flick the many biological switches in the nucleus and convince them they are again in a very young organism. Wilmut says it is a difficult problem but he can crack it given a decade.

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