|In one of
the most surprising of modern genetics announcements, Karl
claimed to have cloned three mice in 1979. Illmensee's
announcement came at a time where a succession of failed
cloning attempts were beginning to convince biologists
that the cloning of a mammal was impossible.
Illmensee cloned the mice using the process of nuclear transfer. He extracted the nucleus of a four-day-old mouse embryo cell using a method similar to that used by Briggs and King in 1952. By sucking the cell into a pipette smaller than the diameter of the cell, Illmensee crushed the outer parts of the cell while leaving the nucleus intact. Then the pipette was inserted into a fertilized mouse egg, and the nucleus injected. After the nuclear transfer was complete, Illmensee used the same pipette to extract the original genetic material from the egg.
Illmensee had earned a reputation for successfully completing the hardest and most delicate experiments, and despite the amazing results of the mice cloning, his achievement was immediately heralded by the scientific community. However, in the coming year's, Illmensee's work was brought into question.
Illmensee maintained abnormal work hours, often working on weekends or late at night when no one was around. Scientists in Illmensee's lab became frustrated when he refused to demonstrate his nuclear transfer technique even though demonstration is a common practice of scientists after their work had been published. Illmensee even went as far as discouraging researchers in his lab from attempting nuclear transfer experiments.
Kurt Burki, a scientist working in the lab, attempted to repeat Illmensee's experiment of producing mice with only one parent. Even though Burki performed the entire experiment with ease, he never obtained a live mouse. Further questions arose when a student in the lab secretly looked into test tubes that Illmensee claimed held mouse eggs, and found none. In another suspicious incident, Illmensee claimed to have used a micromanipulater in an experiment attempted one weekend in July 1982. However, a student in the lab, Denis Duboule noticed that the micromanipulator was inoperable that weekend do to a broken pipette that needed to be replaced. In early 1983, during a presentation of results by Illmensee, Kurt Burki announced that he, as well as other scientists working at the lab, could not accept Illmensee's findings.
In August of 1983, a commission met with Illmensee and selected workers in his lab to discuss the accusations. Illmensee denied that he had faked any of his experiments, but the commission decided that Illmensee's cloning experiments should be repeated, and declared them "scientifically worthless."
As with the controversy surrounding John Gurdons 1962 work with tadpoles, it is still uncertain whether or not Illmensee did clone three mice in 1979.