Alan Dean Foster’s suspenseful science fiction novel The Human Blend (available in paperback next week) takes place in a far future of genetically modified people. While super-powered (and super-freaky) transgenic humans may yet be a long way off, today’s scientists are well on their way to making mutant plants and animals a reality.
Here are four freaky Frankenbeasts forged by science:
Glow in the Dark Cats: What’s better than a cat? A cat that doubles as a book light. Mayo Clinic Scientist hoping to find a cure for AIDS are studying Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. One of the possible treatments they’re trying involves transferring new disease-resistant genes into mama cats that can then be passed on to their offspring. This disease-resistant gene is bundled with a special glowing gene harvested from a species of jellyfish, and kittens who inherit the gene glow green while those who don’t glow red.
Sudden-Death Mosquitoes: British scientists hit upon an ingenious idea for controlling the spread of Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that wreaks havoc upon the developing world. By tinkering with mosquito genes, the scientists created a self-destructing male mosquito. Their hope is that the new short-lived mosquito will mate with wild female mosquitoes, producing offspring that inherit the lab-spawned mosquito’s ultra short-lived lifespan.
Teenage Mutant Fish Tomato: In the early nineties researchers at DNA Plant Technologies genetically engineered a frost-resistant tomato. How? They spliced in genes from an arctic flounder. The so-called “fish tomato” became a symbol of many people’s fears of transgenic foods. Not surprisingly, it never made it to market.
The Amazing Spider Goat: Spider silk is an amazingly durable product with a number of potential applications in biomedical and industrial research. Unfortunately, it’s hard to harvest. (“Have you ever milked a spider, Greg?”) Scientists at the University of Wisconsin came up with what could be considered a disturbing solution: they incorporated the spider’s silk-spinning gene into goats. Now they can harvest the spider silk protein from the goat’s milk. Sounds like a baaaaah-d idea to me.
BONUS: “Blinky” here wasn’t created on purpose, and the jury is still out as to whether its mutation is naturally occurring or a result of exposure to radiation, so I have included it here as a bonus entry:
The Simpsons Did It! Three-Eyed Fish: Argentine fishermen angling in a reservoir near a nuclear power plant hooked what could be a cousin of “Blinky”, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons. The tri-eyed monster was given to local scientists for them to determine if the mutation was caused by radiation from the power plant. D’oh!