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Scientists counter Wilmut criticisms

Response follows media furor over admission by Dolly first author that he did not deserve half of the credit

By | March 15, 2006

Scientists say that UK scientist Ian Wilmut, the first author of the paper describing the cloned sheep Dolly, did not overly exaggerate his role in the research. Recently, Wilmut said he did not deserve half the credit for the project that brought him worldwide fame in the 1990s, triggering a rash of stories in the British press detailing the behind-the-scenes squabbling in the Roslin Institute laboratory in Edinburgh where Wilmut worked at the time. "I have no reason to think Wilmut did anything wrong," Richard Henderson, of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge in the UK, told The Scientist via Email. Henderson added that many senior authors spend most of their time coordinating the research and writing the papers, but the work is "often done mostly by others." Wilmut made his comments last week before an employment tribunal, in a case not directly related to the Dolly research project. Wilmut was being questioned by a lawyer for Prim Singh, a former Roslin colleague who has accused Wilmut of racial harassment and bullying. Press reports say Wilmut testified that he had a supervisory role in the creation of Dolly that was "not trivial," but his colleague Keith Campbell, who was last author for the article about the study, deserved "66%" of the credit. Wilmut's court admission sparked a wave of media reports, and The Scotsman has suggested Wilmut might be "stripped" of the prestigious Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize he was awarded a year ago. (Monika Mölders, spokeswoman for the Frankfurt-based Paul Ehrlich Foundation, denied this to The Scientist, and affirmed that the foundation supports Wilmut. "He will keep his prize," she said.) Wilmut, who left the Roslin Institute late last year to head the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, was not available for comment, nor was Campbell at his office at the University of Nottingham's Division of Animal Physiology. According to the Guardian, Campbell left the Roslin institute in 1997, in part due to the way Wilmut handled the Dolly project. Angelika Schnieke, the second author of the published study who was a PhD student at the time of the project, said Wilmut should not have been have been named first author of the study, and should have "given more credit to all the people involved" after the study was published. Schnieke, who now is chair of Livestock Biotechnology at Technical University of Munich, said that there was a group discussion of principal researchers at the time to determine who would be named first author. Wilmut "wanted to be first author," she said. Schnieke conceded that the remaining co-authors agreed that Wilmut should be named the first author. Miodrag Stojkovic, deputy director of Principe Felipe Centro de Investigacion in Valencia, Spain, said Wilmut took too much credit and should not have been first author. "Yes, this is common practice in scientific publishing," he told The Scientist. "But, in my opinion, it is not fair practice." Stojkovic created the UK's first cloned human embryo while working at Newcastle University, but left earlier this year for Spain in part because he felt a colleague took too much credit for his team's work. However, Eckhard Wolf, of the Institute for Molecular Animal Breeding at the University of Munich in Germany, disagreed, noting that first authors don't have to be directly involved in a research project. "If the basis of the (Dolly) research was (Wilmut's) idea, then there is no reason why he should not be first author," Wolf told The Scientist. Ned Stafford nstafford@the-scientist.com Links within this article Roslin Institute http://www.roslin.ac.uk/ Richard Henderson http://www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/groups/rh15/ M. Macleod, "Dolly expert in row over science prize," Scotsman.com, March 12, 2006. http://news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=371292006 N. Stafford, "Furor over Wilmut prize," The Scientist, March 15, 2005. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20050315/01/ "Ian Wilmut to head Centre for Regenerative Medicine," University of Edinburgh, December 2, 2005. http://www.research-innovation.ed.ac.uk/records/news/wilmut_021205.asp Keith Campbell http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/biosciences/anphy/academic/campbell.html Angelika Schnieke http://www.wzw.tum.de/btn/ Principe Felipe Centro de Investigacion http://www.cipf.es/?lang=en I.Sample, "Who really made Dolly? Tale of British triumph descends into scientists' squabble," Guardian, March 11, 2006. http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,1728628,00.html Eckhard Wolf http://www.lmb.uni-muenchen.de/mainframes/genecenter.htm
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