Lesson Plan

Biology: Dolly, the Cloned Sheep


This 13-minute video shows students both the scientific and cultural context surrounding Dolly, the world’s first clone of an adult mammal. The video clarifies the scientific process that led to Dolly’s creation, explores how media and political leaders responded to the birth with surprise and fear, and how Dolly influenced the ongoing debate over the use of human embryos in stem cell research. Useful for lessons focused on gene expression or biotechnology, the video can be used to initiate discussion or debate about bioethics and epigenetics.


  • How scientists created the first clone of an adult mammal.
  • How public and political anxiety over cloning in the late 1990s led to decades of debate over the use of human embryos.
  • How scientific research has been influenced by this debate.
  • Social Studies
  • Science
  • Biology
  • U.S. History
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Bill Clinton
  • George W. Bush
  • The Modern Era (1980-Present)
  • 21st Century
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

In February 1997 the cloning of a sheep sent shock waves around the globe and triggered fears of overreach by scientists. As the first animal cloned from an adult cell, Dolly’s birth was a scientific accomplishment that was compared to putting a man on the moon.

But it also raised fears that science was going too far – that it might only be a matter of time before scientists would be able to bioengineer anything from designer babies to endangered species.

That was certainly not the intent of the Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut and his team at the Roslin Institute outside of Edinburgh. They had been working for years to find a process to use clone cells in developing drugs and therapies to fight deadly diseases. They saw the cloning of Dolly as a step on that road.

Once Dolly was born, the team tried to keep the birth secret until they could publish their findings in a scientific journal, but the news leaked out, shocking the world

The achievement soon gave way to worries that scientists had crossed an ethical line. Those fears led President Clinton to ban the use of federal funds for cloning humans. But the public apprehension turned out to be misplaced; the cloning process was far more complicated than was widely understood.

Essential Questions

  • What was embryologist Bill Ritchie’s procedural method for cloning an adult mammal? How many times did he have to repeat the procedure before an embryo was carried to term?
  • Several decades before Dolly’s birth, what other animal had been cloned?
  • How did the news media and politicians respond to news of Dolly’s existence? How did President Clinton respond?
  • What caused Dolly’s death? How old was she?
  • What factors have slowed or inhibited research with human embryos?
  • How did the Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka sidestep the ethical issues surrounding the use of human embryos in stem cell research?

Lesson Procedure

  • Why was Dolly’s arrival such an important breakthrough in cloning? Why was it more challenging to clone mammals than it was to clone a frog?
  • Why is the use of human embryos in biological research politically and culturally more sensitive than other kinds of biological research?
  • Is Dolly an exact clone of the nucleus donor? Why or why not? Are identical human twins actually fully identical? What are epigenetic factors that could cause Dolly to be different from the nucleus donor?
  • Do you think it would be appropriate for parents to use biotechnology to genetically alter their children? Would it be ethical to change a child’s eye color? To enhance athletic ability? To prevent a painful disease? If you were a parent, would you be more or less likely to alter your child’s genes if you knew that other parents were altering their children’s?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "How Cloning a Sheep Set Off a Sci Fi Panic"Retro Report 
“The Clone Named Dolly”Retro Report 
“It’s been 20 years since Dolly. Where’s my clone?”STAT 

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed on from parents to offspring.

Skill 1.C: Explain biological concepts in applied contexts.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com