You may have heard of gene splicing before: the act of taking one particular gene with a specific function from one species, and inserting it into another. It is a far more complex process than that, but that is the gist of it. It is without a doubt completely insane and completely incredible.
Scientists have good reason for doing this; often, it is for medical research, or to improve the life of a species, without harming another. It is very easy to get caught up in the science, morals or sheer complexity of genetic engineering, and so I wanted to inject a bit of fun into it. I have found the best examples of gene splicing for you to read, and wonder ‘what were they thinking?’.
- Glow in the dark cats. I am not joking – although they might look like aliens, prowling around at night, they have actually been since 2007 so if you haven’t seen one yet, you are probably safe! The intention here was to teethe capabilities of genetic engineering with the hope that we can one day create animals with human illnesses so we can learn the best way to treat them.
- Scientists were really keen to find a way to harvest spider silk, for its durability and flexibility, but spiders are just too territorial to allow for mass production. Instead, scientist’s inserted the silk gene into a goat, and then extracted the silk from their milk – voila! Unharmed, goats, unharmed spiders and a lot of strong, flexible web material for scientists to play with.
If you are a keen gardener, but hate the pests that nibble away at your vegetables, you will like this one. A scientist used the gene that creates a scorpion’s venom and combined it with a cabbage to make a cabbage that repels critters without the use of pesticide. Whilst harmful to pests, it is safe for humans.
- A gene from the arctic flounder was inserted into tomatoes to better increase their capacity to deal with cold weather. This was to increase their ripeness whilst maintaining their colour and texture inside. Scientists crossed their fingers that the tomato wouldn’t grow fins and swim away.
- The next time you are looking to get a vaccine, just nip to the grocers and pick up a banana. Scientists have engineered bananas to successfully products vaccines to diseases including Cholera and Hep B. The banana acts as a normal vaccine would, and build up your immune system against the disease. They have also tested potatoes, lettuce and carrots but bananas were deemed the most efficient. I wouldn’t fancy eat lettuce every time I felt sick anyway!
Some of these sound completely bonkers, I know, but these researchers have genuinely good, noble reasons for messing with our bananas! Gene splicing is being used for more astonishing and beneficial purposes every year, and although we might think it is crazy now, we will definitely be grateful in the future.
The future of gene splicing is currently focused around agriculture – finding ways to prevent our crops and animals from being damaged, while simultaneously improving their growth and giving them new capabilities.
If this article hasn’t made you want to retrain immediately as a scientist, then I suppose you are more sensible than me!