SIXTY-TWO of Scotland's top scientists have come together to warn that independence would damage the country's research base and hurt the economy.
The scientists, including renowned microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington and Dolly the Sheep creator Professor Ian Wilmut, have written an open letter backing the retention of the Union between Scotland and England.
The letter said that, in the debate over independence, "no consideration appears to have been given" to the effects on science of breaking up Britain.
The letter also said Scotland currently attracts a disproportionate share of research money from UK bodies and holds a distinguished role in Britain's research infrastructure.
And it added: "Separation would inevitably lead to disruption of these ties with detrimental consequences for the health of the Scottish science base and for the long-term viability of the Scottish economy and society.
"We therefore wish to endorse the Union."
Prof Wilmut, who now holds a chair in reproductive science at Edinburgh University's Research Institute for Medical Cell Biology
, said: "The concern is if Scotland were to separate from the rest of Great Britain, the investment in research and technology transfer would inevitably be reduced and that would have a significant impact on Scotland.
"Science and technology are critical for all sorts of things - fundamentally job creation.
"It's crucial for a country, particularly when so much wealth is generated by knowledge, to have an active research environment."
English-born Prof Wilmut said he had lived "more than half" of his adult life north of the Border and now regarded himself as partly Scottish.
He said he had received - and rejected - lucrative offers from abroad, adding: "The reason we have stayed is that we like the way of life here - it's a good place to live and work."
Dr Peter Cotgreave, a spokesman for the Campaign for Science and Engineering pressure group, backed the letter's signatories. He said: "Science is a global activity. You cannot do it in isolation. The idea of an insular Scotland would not work."
And he added that small independent countries such as Norway were not as successful in terms of science as Scotland was from within the UK.
Scotland currently gets 55 per head from Westminster-funded UK research bodies, compared with 45 a head for England and 20 in Wales.
First Minister Jack McConnell said last night: "Our universities benefit from having both the autonomy that comes from devolution and the collaborative and competitive environment that comes from being part of a UK system of universities and higher education."
Chancellor Gordon Brown, in Glasgow yesterday,
said: "Far from being a barrier to invention, the United Kingdom has been the framework that has helped Scots create the inventions and find the cures which have built our name around the world."
He added that Scotland, with nine per cent of the population of the UK, attracted 12 per cent of total UK funding council money for research and the same percentage from Europe.
And he said: "Of the world's top 200 universities, Scotland has three - more than Ireland, Iceland and Norway combined. All of this is at risk if Britain is broken up."
But other Scottish scientists disputed the anti-independence stance of the letter-writers.
Stephen Salter, professor of Engineering Design at the University of Edinburgh, said: "I am disappointed by the misrepresentation of the situation in Scotland of some of my colleagues in the science and engineering community.
"We have achieved a great deal but we can be more successful. Funding does not depend on borders but rather the quality of the applications and maintaining a competitive edge."
He added that the SNP had promised extra funding, including 10 million for research, 1 million for a Life Sciences Institute and 60 million for universities over the next four years.
And Prof Salter insisted: "These initiatives will attract expertise and excellence in this important area and help to keep Scotland's scientific community amongst the best in the world."
A spokesman for the SNP said next week's election was not a referendum on independence.
And he added: "The SNP are totally committed to building an innovative Scotland where we can make our scientific community more successful."
EMBRYOLOGIST who in 1996 was the first to clone a mammal, a Finn Dorset lamb named Dolly, from fully differentiated adult mammary cells. Wilmut's work, published in 1997, pushed the concept of cloning into the news and public debate.
The announcement rocked the scientific community as well as the public and kicked off a large-scale discussion on the ethics of cloning research.
Prior to joining the Roslin Institute in 1974, he created the first calf ever produced from a frozen embryo, which he named Frosty.
Wilmut, who states that he sees no reason for the pursuit of cloning of a human, conducts his research with the hopes of producing animals that act as manufacturing plants for valuable human proteins, which are costly and difficult to produce in large amounts.
In 1998, Polly was created following the death of Dolly. Containing a human gene, the sheep provided milk containing a human protein that can be given to patients who lack it, such as haemophiliacs.
WIDELY recognised as a world authority in laser physics and optoelectronics, Professor Sibbett's is author of more than 280 journal publications.
His work has wide-ranging applications in the field of ultrafast science and technology, including optical communications and photobiology.
Professor Sibbett was appointed Scotland's first chief advisor on science by The Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2001, to help develop policies and practices in science which promote the social and economic wellbeing of the country.
At present he is the director of research in the School of Physics and Astronomy at St Andrews University.
AS ONE of the UK's leading microbiologists, he has spoken out on a range of food safety issues, including the BSE crisis.
In 1979, he was appointed to the Chair of Bacteriology at Aberdeen University. His research focused on the development of new and improved "fingerprinting" methods for bacteria.
He has written on a number of subjects, including a commentary on the recent SARS outbreak and a comparison with syphilis, smallpox, anthrax and their potential use in bio-terrorism.
He was chairman of the expert group into the inquiry into the E coli 0157 outbreak in Wishaw in 1996.
A DISTINGUISHED zoologist and broadcaster, his main research and teaching interests are on animal behaviour, development and evolution. He is considered one of the leading experts in his field.
He has been involved with environmental issues since 1966 and with the Centre for Human Ecology since its inception at Edinburgh University in 1970.
Recognition of his contribution to the public understanding of science came in 2003 with the Zoological Society of London Silver Medal.
He is also co-author of the popular text An Introduction to Animal Behaviour.
SIR DAVID LANE
PROFESSOR Sir David Lane holds the chair of molecular oncology at Dundee University. A world-leading authority in oncology, he has an international reputation for his discovery of and work on p53 - the tumour suppressor gene known as the "guardian of the genome".
With a reputation as one of the world's superstars of biomedicine, Sir David has won many international awards and is one of the decade's ten most cited biomedical scientists.
His contribution to bioscience was recognised with a knighthood in the Millennium Honours List. In 1996, he co-founded Dundee-based cancer treatment research company Cyclacel.
THE SCIENTISTS WHO SIGNED OPEN LETTER BACKING THE UNION
PROF Willie Russell FRSE, Prof Mark Ainsworth FRSE, Robin Allshire FRSE, Prof Colin Ballantyne FRSE, Prof Lawrence Barron OBE FRS FRSE, Prof Jean Beggs FRS FRSE, Wendy Bickmore FRSE, Prof Ian Booth FRSE, Prof Ian Boyd FRSE, Prof Alistair Brown FRSE, Prof Richard Byrne FRSE, Prof Saveria Campo FRSE, Prof Richard Carter FRSE, Jeff Christiansen, Prof Stuart Cobbe FRSE, Prof Richard Cogdell FRSE, Prof John Coggins FRSE, Prof David Cole-Hamilton FRSE, Prof Patricia Connolly FRSE, Howard Cooke FRSE, Prof Robert Crawford FRSE, Prof Malcolm Dunlop, Prof Geoffrey Duxbury FRSE, Prof Richard Elliott FRSE, Prof Alan Fairlamb FRSE, Prof David Finnegan FRSE, Prof Godfrey Fitton FRSE, Prof Stephen Fry FRSE, Prof Neil Gow FRSE, Prof Frank Gunstone FRSE, Nicholas Hastie FRS FRSE, Prof William Hill OBE FRSE, Prof John Hillman FRSE, Prof Martin Hooper FRSE, Prof James Hough FRS FRSE, Prof John Irvine FRSE, Prof John Kelly FRSE, Prof Sir David Lane FRS FRSE, Prof David Lilley FRS FRSE, Prof David Littlejohn FRSE, Prof Aubrey Manning OBE FRSE, Duncan McGeoch FRSE, Prof Alan Miller FRSE, Prof Anne Magurran FRSE, Prof Sir Kenneth Murray FRS FRSE, Prof Noreen Murray CBE FRS FRSE, Prof Tony Nash FRSE, Prof Jim Neil FRSE, Prof Hugh Pennington FRSE, Prof Wilson Sibbett FRS FRSE, Prof Peter Slater FRSE, Prof Ifor Samuel FRSE, Prof Lindsay Sawyer, Prof Kenneth Sorbie FRSE, Prof Colin Suckling FRSE, David Sugden FRSE, Prof Veronica Van Heyningen FRSE, Prof Garry Taylor FRSE, Prof Tony Trewavas FRS FRSE, Prof Malcolm Walkinshaw FRSE, Prof Colin Watts FRS FRSE, Prof Ian Wilmut OBE FRS FRSE