This Wednesday evening kicks off a super-exciting four-part NOVA series about nanotechnology called Making Stuff. Each episode focuses on one general concept: stronger, smaller, cleaner, smarter. We could just squeal.
Courtesy National Science Foundation
I was honored to get a sneak-preview of the first episode, Making Stuff: Stronger in San Francisco in October, and found myself in some crazy conversations afterward about bioengineering and media ethics. You see, scientists have, uh, installed spider silk-making genes into goats, thereby making the goat milk spinnable into spider silk. The Making Stuff episode covers this, then ends by showing the host happily drinking a glass of milk, and we’re left wondering if it's actually the spider-silk-milk that he’s downing without a care in the world.
Courtesy National Science Foundation
2020 Science, the blog of Andrew Maynard, scientist, science policy guru, and Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, kindly takes the conversation beyond “ew!” to “responsible?” Andrew was also in the room for the special preview, and raised far more eloquent concerns than I (I’m sorry – I’m still stuck on the spiders…ew), and then blogged about them. And then got substantive responses, including one from Making Stuff’s producer, Chris Schmidt. All a fascinating read.
Andrew, being the smart, informed fellow that he is, pointed out that this whole spidergoat concept is old news.
Courtesy National Science FoundationNo less icky and/or creepy I would add, but still old news. Can’t wait until the Making Stuff episode that delves into the topic on Wednesday? Take a peek at the short video put together by the National Science Foundation.
Wind farm kills unfortunate goats.
An advisory panel to the FDA is recommending approval of the first US drug made with help from genetically engineered animals. GTC Biotherapeutics makes Atryn, an anti-clotting therapy, using a herd of 200 goats bred to express a human protein in their milk. The drug is meant to help people with hereditary antithrombin deficiency, a genetic disorder that causes blood clotting. Patients and their families want the drug approved and say studies show it's safe and effective. But other folks argue that there hasn't been enough safety testing around the use of transgenic animals. The final FDA decision is expected February 7.
Courtesy OpencageDo y’all remember that exhilarating and frightening moment in late July when some fresh “Yeti” hair was found? Oh, come on—you remember. Think back. You probably had some bowel spasms. I posted about it.
If you’re not into checking out links, the basic story was this: a man in a heavily forested region of northeast India had collected some strange hairs from an area where there had been several sightings in the last few days of a large, Bigfoot-like creature. The hairs couldn’t immediately be identified, but they looked a little like the “yeti hair” collected by Sir Edmund Hilary on his famous yeti hunt (I’m using quotation marks there because the “yeti” hair came from a “deer” and Hilary probably knew it). So the hairs were sent to a lab for DNA testing.
And the results are in.
This might be a disappointment for the Bigfoot enthusiasts of India’s Garo Hills region (although they insist that the creature is still out there, even if it isn’t leaving its own hair around), but, in its own way, it’s an interesting discovery. The goral was never thought to roam that far south in India—it was believed to only live in the Himalayas, at elevations above 1,000 meters.
So, while we haven’t uncovered indisputable genetic evidence of a South Asian ape-man, our time on the cryptocouch hasn’t been a total waste—we’ve come out with a more practical (if less spectacular) discovery about a mundane animal.