Monday, June 17, 2013

Bio-Art: Glowing Monkeys.

I've been looking into a book called Frankenstein's Cat. It details the advances made in mixing organic lifeforms with technology, covering everything from GloFish to Roachbots. In other words, it gels very nicely with this little column. It is so named because, hey, we've made a cat that glows green in the name of curing lethal diseases.

It's weird -maybe even cute - when cats and danios get turned green, but what if science did a GFP splice that really hit home?

Source: PopSci.

Well, Japan did. In May 2009, Erika Sasaki of the Central Institute for Experimental Aninals in Japan injected marmoset embryos with GFP. That's right: we've made a monkey glow green.Or, rather, we've made twin monkeys glow green, and it's 100% heritable. As with most of these experiments involving GFP, the scientists hope to track the genetics of Parkinson's, Huntington's, and many other hereditary diseases.

Marmosets, for the record, are probably the ideal lab monkey. (Rhesus monkeys are the other big monkey you need to know.) They reproduce at a young age, and are juuust distant enough from humans to avoid any really sticky ethical issues. Experiments have been done to make monkeys glow in the past, but this is the first time that the trait has been heritable. The last monkeys did not pass it on to their offspring, or else suffered genetic lottery fail.

Kei and Kou are the first F2 glowing marmosets. They were made by effectively cloning a male glowing marmoset's sperm into the egg of a normal female marmoset. Although not as well-expressed as one might think, the little monkeys do indeed glow in the dark beneath their fur. If nothing else, their underpaws glow green, showing the transgenics at work. Since then, they have gone on to sire many a glowing monkey, creating the first glowing primate founding stock.

Here's the kicker: even monkeys aren't close enough to humans to track some diseases. Soon, we will need to splice human embryos if we want to cure diseases that can only affect people in a certain way. Ethical concerns aside, it should be easy to find some crazy mom who would want a bright green baby, so long as "will not look like The Grinch" was part of the contract. This isn't art yet, but look for gene spliced kids in the future. It'll happen.

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