Why Dolly Parton Was the Namesake for the World’s First Cloned Animal

In her life, Dolly Parton has been the inspiration behind a theme park, a spa, and several restaurants. She’s also the inspiration behind the name of a famous sheep. Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, shares Parton’s first name for a reason that has little to do with her musical ability. Here’s why the scientists behind the cloned sheep felt that “Dolly” was the perfect name.

Dolly Parton frequently jokes about her ‘assets’

When she first began gaining notoriety for her music, Parton said that the comments about her looks could be hurtful.

“In the early days, I think it used to bother me when people [made fun of me],” Parton said on The Oprah Conversation. “It didn’t change me. It didn’t make me do it different, but I kind of get a little embarrassed sometimes if somebody made too much fun of it. That was when I knew they didn’t know who all I was or what all I was.”

Soon, though, she realized that these comments were more a reflection on others than herself. As she grew more comfortable, she began cracking self-deprecating jokes.

“All of my life, I have been known for two things. Well, not them,” Parton joked, gesturing to her breasts when she was named MusiCares Person of the Year in 2019, per the Independent. “I’ve also been known as a singer and songwriter too. Although I’m not complaining. Ol’ Pancho and Lefty’s been pretty good to me. Everybody always expects me to do a boob joke, and I like to do that right up front.”

Dolly the sheep was named after her

For much of her career, Parton’s figure has been the subject of much discussion, including by herself. In 1997, this reached new heights. Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland were working to produce genetically modified livestock. As part of an experiment, they cloned a sheep from the egg cell from the mammary gland of one sheep and an egg cell from another. The result was the first fully cloned mammal from adult cells.

The scientists involved in the project were thrilled to see its success and immediately knew what they had to name the animal.

“I’m standing next to [farm research assistant] Douglas McGavin watching the vet assist this birth, and I made an off-the-cuff remark to Douglas,” research assistant John Bracken told Scientific American. “I said, ‘You know what we’re going to have to call this lamb? We’re going to have to call it Dolly’, after Dolly Parton, because the cells are derived from mammary tissue.”

Though not everyone was entirely on board, they now agree that the name was fitting.

“Being somewhat puritanical, I might have been a bit worried,” embryologist Ian Wilmut said. “With hindsight, without a doubt it was a great name.”

Dolly Parton reacted to being the namesake for Dolly the sheep

So, what does Parton think of her namesake? She reflected on the late Dolly the sheep in an interview with the Daily Record.

“Dolly The Sheep was very popular for a long time, but I believe she passed away,” Parton said. “I was told she was called after me because she had big mammary glands. She gave me a lot of competition but I heard that when they first named her they used the mammary glands for cloning and the scientist who came up with that thought he had to name her Dolly. I never met her but I always said there’s no such thing as baaad publicity.”

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