IT'S ALL HAPPENING AT THE FRANKENZOO
by Celeste McGovern
In every way, Alba seems like an ordinary albino bunny. But put her under a disco light and watch
her glow. Alba is a genetically modified "creation" of artist Eduardo Kac, who persuaded scientists to
inject jellyfish genes into her when she was a developing embryo. Now Alba the rabbit, including her
eyes and whiskers, glows fluorescent green under ultraviolet light. (For her photo and more, check out
www.ekac.org/gfpbunny/ [link gone--ed. note.)
Alba is but one of many bizarre genetically modified animals produced by modern scientists.
Honolulu researchers made 11 glowing green mice, and scientists at the Oregon Regional Primate
Research Center are working to make glow-in-the-dark rhesus monkeys. They have not reported
success yet, which leads one to wonder about the sort of jelly-fish-monkey mutants they might have
made in the attempts.
Alba may have been made for the sake of "art" but plenty of scientists are tampering with animals'
genes to make them disease-resistant, grow faster, or produce drugs.
Milk from genetically modified rabbits has already been used in the Netherlands to successfully treat
four babies suffering from Pompe's disease--a rare, potentially fatal muscular disorder.
Scientists from Quebec have inserted spiders' genes into goats to make them produce spider's-web
protein in their milk. Spidroin--spider's silk--is stronger and more flexible than steel and could be
used to make everything from parachutes to oil drums if it can be mass-produced. Watch for dairy
Other genetic modifications of animals have sprung from commercial hopes: salmon have been
engineered to grow three times faster than normal, for example, and U.S. scientists genetically
engineered chickens to grow meatier legs in place of their wings.
Of course, newfangled baby-making techniques have made use of animals too. Japanese researchers
transplanted spermatagonia into rat and mice testes to make them produce human sperm. Mice have
also been used to incubate human eggs.
Then there are the efforts to repopulate endangered species through cloning. Indian scientists have set
aside US$1 million to make a test-tube baby cheetah.
An American firm has already impregnated a dairy cow with a gaur, a rare ox-like creature. A domestic
cat, impregnated using the same sort of technologies used on humans, gave birth to an endangered
wildcat last year.
Scientists are even picking the frozen wooly mammoth carcass uncovered in Siberia last fall for a
DNA sample they can use to create a clone embryo--to gestate in an elephant, perhaps. Real-life
There are scientific endeavours with animals that are harder to comprehend. American scientists
injected human photopigment into developing mice to give them technicolour vision, and a team of
Harvard Medical School researchers succeeded in making a chick embryo grow tooth buds.
And there are mutants created with more obvious human possibilities. A virus carrying a
growth-producing gene injected into mouse muscles made them supermice--27% stronger. Package
that for human consumption and you'd have something to sell Olympic athletes.
Don't bet human animals will be off limits to such genetic tinkering. A broad scientific consensus says
technology for human genetic "enhancement" is about to arrive. In vitro fertilization won't be merely
for the rich and infertile; it will be for the masses, biologist Gregory Stock told a gathering of fertility
doctors in California last month. "The battle is going to be between two factions: one that thinks of
these things as something that's going to destroy us, the other that feels this is our chance to transcend
the limitations of our own biology."
And who wouldn't want their children to transcend the limitations of human stupidity? Why shouldn't
a basketball fan ensure his baby boy inherits a few extra inches, so he can have a go at the big league?
Princeton University biologist (and human cloning enthusiast) Lee Silver told ABC Nightline news
last year (approvingly) that parents may soon be able to have their embryonic offspring enhanced with
wolf eye genes, all the better to see with at night.
Now what caring parent would deny their child night vision if she could have it? Hard to say, but why
bother if you can just make everyone else glow in the dark?
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