SCIENTIFIC research in Scotland could suffer from cuts in funding because of Brexit, according to one of the country’s foremost embryologists.

Dr Bill Ritchie was one of the team that created Dolly the cloned sheep 20 years ago and is a keen proponent of the process in a range of scenarios, including using meat from cloned animals to help feed people in famine-struck parts of the world.

Dolly made Scotland a world leader in the field, but Ritchie said funding could dry up after Britain leaves the European Union.

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Speaking exclusively to The National, he said: “A lot of the money for research is coming from the European Commission at the moment, but what’s going to happen to that in future? I haven’t seen anything in anyone’s manifesto that says they are going to bolster up science with the money that they’re saving from the EU.

“Scotland is a very effective and efficient country and punches well above its weight for things like scientific papers and research, so I’m sure a lot of the science community are very worried about what’s going to happen here after Brexit. It’s possible we could be left behind — who knows what’s going to happen?

“As far as I can see we voted for Brexit without knowing what the hell was going on and it’s coming back to bite people now.

“I have a leaflet from the Conservatives and nowhere on this leaflet does it say what they’re going to do. It only says what they don’t want and that’s a referendum. I keep hearing them say this is terrible, the SNP should be getting on with the day job, but of course who’s bringing this up most of the time? All the other parties.

“Scotland didn’t vote for a blank piece of paper and what’s happening is we’re being dragged out. What happens after that?”

Ritchie said technology had advanced significantly since Dolly’s creation and had moved into the realms of DNA editing with tools such as CRISPR-Cas9.

These advances improved the quality of cloned animals, but he said he was disappointed that the EU had sought to ban the idea of cloning.

“They won’t accept even the offspring of clones,” he said. “Of course the Scottish Government aren’t keen on cloning either.

“Cloned animals have suffered from various problems with health and development in the past, and the EU says more of these animals than in the normal population would perhaps suffer from developmental problems.

“If you have a very good female animal, you are very limited in how many animals you can breed that to. But you can dilute the genes and breed from the offspring by making it a clone and breed these clones.”

Ritchie spent some time in Kenya, where he taught people in Nairobi to clone a local species of cattle, with the idea of incorporating a gene that created beasts resistant to the parasite that causes sleeping sickness — a major problem in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This would also help feed people because the losses in the cattle that don’t thrive and suffer from the effects of parasites – you would get more and healthier cattle,” he added.

“Cloning has already indicated to people that cells are much more plastic than they thought before, and are benefitting from the fact that we cloned Dolly and then went to look at stem cells, but it’s only 20 years which is a relatively short time. Science is always changing.”

He said that although the Scottish Government was opposed to genetically modified crops, many had been so altered in the past, and supporters believed they could lead to a more sustainable agriculture industry.

Ritchie added: “You can’t avoid genetically-modified plants, from whatever way you look at it.

“If you’re going to condemn these things without looking at them very closely, aren’t you missing the trick?”