10 Times Science Played ‘God’

10 Times Science Played God 10 Spider-Goats (sung) Spider-goat, spider-goat… ahem

Scientists are amazed by spider silk; it’s stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar So now they want to use it to make artificial tendons, bullet proof vests and airbags But when they tried to set up spider farms, the spiders killed each other due to a penchant [pon-shon] for cannibalism So, to solve this problem… step in Freckles, Pudding and Sweetie Professor Randy Lewis has successfully isolated the spider gene that creates silk and spliced it into these goats and five of their siblings

Despite their incredible web-making ability, the goats are completely normal and healthy in every other way So, how do you get the silk out of the goats? You milk them of course The spider gene makes the goats produce a silk protein that is present in their milk The scientists then separate the protein and pull out a single strand of silk to wrap around a spool One goat can produce up to 12 grams a day, around 40,000 times the amount that one spider will produce in a lifetime

9 Home-grown Alien If you remember high school biology, then you’ll know that DNA is made up of two pairs of amino acids: A and G, and also C and T Every living thing on Earth has DNA Humans? DNA Sloths? DNA

Cacti? DNA Weird fungi? DNA Amoebas? DNA All of these life forms are coded for with the four letters A, G, C and T Naturally, some curious scientists asked, “Why stop at just four?” Floyd Romesberg dedicated 15 years to achieving the extraordinary feat of the creation of a being with 3 base pairs

After screening dozens of possible chemicals in thousands of combinations, he came up with a stable combination This was then genetically inserted into E Coli bacteria – the first truly alien life form in existence Researchers hope that this could lead to the creation of alien microorganisms that can produce new proteins for medicine Scientists also see no reason why we can’t go further and chuck out the original four letters and make fully alien bacteria, in order to further understand how life works

8 Edible Vaccines According to the World Health Organization, 240 million people worldwide are infected with Hepatitis B, an incurable disease that attacks the liver and kills nearly 700,000 people annually There are high rates of infection particularly in East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Amazon Coincidentally, in these areas people grow a lot of bananas Some crazy scientists put two and two together and decided to genetically modify bananas to possess a vaccine against Hep B

The attempts worked and in 2007 a team of Indian researchers published a paper on its effectiveness When the modified banana is broken down in the intestine, Hep B proteins are released and dealt with by the immune system Simply by eating these bananas, your immune system is strengthened against any Hep B infection further down the line One concern is that getting the dosage right may be difficult – don’t eat enough bananas and you won’t be vaccinated, eat too many and you may develop a tolerance to the virus, so you’re immune system won’t respond to it 7

Mom, Mom and Dad A human cell contains two sets of DNA; one set is located within the nucleus and the other set is located in the mitochondria – structures that produce energy for the cell Leigh syndrome, which attacks the nervous system, is found on a gene only in the mitochondrial DNA One solution is to swap out the defective DNA, but is it possible? On the 6th April 2016 the first child was born via a process that uses the DNA from three different parents Doctors from the USA flew to Mexico with the expectant Jordanian parents to avoid any potentially legal issues with American courts This is how it works: a nucleus is extracted from one mother’s egg that has Leigh Syndrome and inserted into the other mother’s egg that has had its nucleus removed, but still contains mitochondrial DNA

The father’s sperm then fertilizes this new hybrid egg, which is implanted into one of the mothers The FDA previously banned the procedure after an attempt in the 90s led to two fetuses developing genetic disorders, which meant they lacked an X chromosome But this new baby is now over 6 months old and doing well 6 Mind-control Soldiers DARPA’s Brain-Machine Interface program unveiled the Robo-rat in 2008

With electrodes implanted directly into its brain, the rat’s movements could be commanded, turning it into a sort of organic robot At the push of a button, government scientists could also release a flood of dopamine in the rat’s pleasure center in the brain, causing it to willingly follow any order given Tasks involved making it walk down perilously steep slopes, and guiding it through a maze Since 2008, technology has moved on to more complex animals The main stated goal of all this research is to produce super soldiers using similar brain chips on the battlefield

However, a report by other scientists has warned that this route could lead to the ‘remote control’ of human beings in warfare In fact, one research program at DARPA explicitly set out to try and regulate the emotions of mentally ill people 5 Back from the Dead Only one animal has been brought back after complete extinction: the Pyrenean Ibex This Spanish species of Ibex popped out of existence in 2000 when the final member was hit by a falling tree branch

In its intervening exile from the mortal world, a team of scientists worked tirelessly to bring it back From some frozen skin samples they extracted Ibex DNA and implanted it into empty goat eggs In total 208 embryos were implanted, but just seven goats became pregnant Finally in 2003 one Pyrenean Ibex was born and it took the species’ first breath in nine long years The ultimate act of playing God

However, in a raised middle finger to the scientists, God smote the infant Ibex in just ten minutes flat, re-consigning the species to oblivion They haven’t given up, though, and others are on the case A research center aiming to bring Wooly Mammoths back to life has been established in Siberia All we seem to need is genetic material, so we could be seeing a Jurassic Park of sorts very soon 4

Cloning Humans It may be illegal in over 30 countries, but that hasn’t stopped some scientists claiming to have cloned humans In 2002 Clonaid, a research facility-cum-cult that believes humans were created by aliens, claimed to have cloned a young girl they called Eve They went on to claim that they had cloned a further 12 individuals, but despite repeated requests they have never presented any evidence Similarly, a South Korean scientist announced that they had created an embryo in a test tube in 2004, although they later retracted the claim And in 2009 fertility specialist Panayiotis Zavos claimed to have implanted 11 human embryos into wombs

Other scientists have since dismissed him as a fringe figure seeking publicity and in 2014 he pleaded guilty to selling unapproved pregnancy kits But for all the smoke and mirrors, a team of reputable scientists did create the first confirmed human embryo clone in 2013 – although it wasn’t allowed to develop The team even used the same techniques that had been used in creating Dolly the sheep 17 years earlier 3 Meddling with Mice If genetic research has taught us one thing, it’s that scientists just really like messing with mice

The first thing they did when they realized they could splice genes across species using a modified HIV-like virus was to make mice glow in the dark This was back in 2002 Scientists isolated the gene in jellyfish that creates a green fluorescence just so they could get some furry nightlights Mice have also suffered the humiliation of having what looked like a human ear grown on their backs In fact, this famous photo from 1997 has nothing to do with human genes or genetic engineering

Instead, they took some cow cartilage, grew it into an ear shaped mould, and then implanted it under the skin of the mouse, where it continued growing Aww… it was all a lie But don’t be disappointed, because in 2016 – nearly 20 years on – scientists have actually grown an ear on a rat using human stem cells Hallelujah Scientists hope to use the human-rat-ears for children with facial disfigurement

2 Got milk? If the milk of spider-goats didn’t weird you out, then this definitely will Chinese scientist, Professor Ning Li, has introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows The aim was to get the cows to produce milk like women’s milk that can be used to feed babies The project was a success and Professor Li says the milk tastes stronger than cow’s milk

It contains human proteins that boost the immune system of babies and protect them from bacterial infections This ‘humanized’ cow milk also has a 20% higher fat content and different proportion of milk solids, making the composition more like that of human milk Professor Ning’s focus now lies in getting this milk on supermarket shelves, where it could be a superior alternative to formulation breast milk 1 Artificial Life Meet Synthia – with an ‘s’ – the first completely artificial species ever created

Synthia’s DNA is the minimal genome – that is, the minimum number of genes thought to be necessary for life to work It is capable of living, eating nutrients, growing into clumps, and reproducing for countless generations It seems about as intelligent as any standard micro-organism Synthia has just 473 genes, far fewer than in any organism found in nature, all programmed by a computer This DNA was physically assembled from 483,000 base pairs and then inserted into an empty cell

In designing the cell, researchers found that they had no idea what a third of the supposedly ‘essential’ genes did – some of which appear in our own DNA This discovery reveals how much we need to learn about the basics of life

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