Friday, March 6, 2009

Animal Science

by Pa Rock

Scientists have a long history of experimenting with animals in order to benefit the human race, and while that practice is often controversial, especially where it harms or kills the animals, it can be seen as the practical alternative to the use of human subjects. The following is a collection of stories involving animals and science that have appeared in the press over the past few months. Some are clearly aimed at the advancement of human health, while others are more frivolous in nature. This poor typist is not an advocate, only a reporter of strangeness.

The BBC recently aired a report of cloned calves from the United States that produce human anti-bodies. Four calves have been produced so far that have extra DNA which contains the genes for part of the human immune system. The antibodies, several different types, are expected to be useful in killing infectious disease agents.

Science Fiction in the News, a web outlet that compares new science with the older science fiction that spawned the ideas, had a report on human-pig hybrids that have been approved in the United Kingdom. The concept is to remove skin cells from humans who have a mutation for certain types of heart disease, and transfer those cells into pig eggs after the chromosomes have been removed. They will then make embryos from which stem cells will develop - leading to research on heart disease through the new stem cells.

Another story from Science Fiction in the News discussed goats that have been bio-engineered so that they produce an anti-clotting protein in their milk. The protein is for use with human patients. As someone who has raised little goats, I am glad that they finally have a purpose in life beyond rampant head-butting and eating expensive rose bushes.

And science also messes with animals just for the fun of it. The same web-site that reported on the pigs and goats, had a story before the holidays about modified zebra fish that glow in red and green. California had a ban on bio-tech household pets, but they were reportedly reconsidering their haste to push for public safety when the wife of one of the commissioners began pressuring her husband to change it because she wanted some of the glow fish for her aquarium - proving once and for all that it's not what you know, it's who you sleep with!

Science Fiction in the News also reported on professors from University of California at Berkeley who have developed radio-controlled rhinoceros beetles. These insects have their wings "and other body parts" wirelessly controlled and can carry a package of up to 1.3 grams on their back and still fly. This one scares me. I can imagine some evangelical potentate with the humanity of Dick Cheney loading up a squadron of beetles with nano-nukes on their backs and releasing them on an unsuspecting world. Calling Dr. Strangelove!

But my favorite animal research story has been kicking around in the popular press for several months now. Scientists in Japan are working with the frozen remains of a male woolly mammoth. The goal is to come up with frozen sperm DNA and use that to impregnate a female elephant. With luck, the scientists believe that they could develop a creature that is 88% woolly mammoth within the next fifty years. My guess is that commissioner's wife in California will want one of those, too.

I would be satisfied with a little dog, but with the charges that Palm Valley Luxury Rentals want to tack on to my monthly rent for a tiny Chihuahua, I could easily raise a woolly mammoth!

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