Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ewww...Spider Goats are real!

At the South by Southwest music, film, and interactive conference held in Austin, Texas recently, Al Gore warned that with futuristic technologies comes risk. One of those risks, he thought, might best be summed up in the form of spider goats.

What exactly is a spider goat?

If you're currently imagining giant, wool-covered arachnids with extra-long legs, a fuzzy snout and pink nose, you're least in that spider goats are the size of dogs and are the result of science combining those creepy eight-legged insects with real live goats. There are about 30 of these mutants living at the Utah State University farm right now. And every time one of them lactates, silk proteins are included in their milk.

I did a little research and learned that this Frankenstein program was the brainchild of the scientists at a Canadian company called Nexia Biotechnologies. In 2002, they announced that they were about to extract silk from a brand new animal. The world was dismayed, but sure enough Nexia came out with a product called BioSteel, a high-strength fiber made of the recombinant spider silk-like protein extracted from the milk of their own lab-grown herd of mutants. The company ultimately failed (thank goodness, some might say) and went bankrupt in 2009. But the herd lives on.

So why did they do it?

The point is that spider silk is one of the strongest materials known in nature. It is five times stronger than steel, yet is fully flexible and could provide the answers to everything from better bullet-proof vests to creating cables strong enough to lift enormous payloads. Unfortunately, there is one very real problem with getting silk from spiders: they cannot be farmed. If you put a group of spiders together in a single location, they eat each other.

More ewww!

It's also not practical or affordable to farm these creatures separately, because an individual spider does not have nearly enough silk output to be worthwhile. So the answer, of course, was to dress up a female spider--makeup, high heels, the works--and then invite a macho goat over to--

Okay, maybe it was more of a test tube process, but you get the point. We now have a breed of goats imprinted with spider genes. And I'm getting the willies just thinking about it. You will be relieved to know, however, that these goats at least do not look anything at all like spiders. They're, instead, more like Spider-Man, hiding their super spidey traits on the inside.

I agree with Al Gore on this one. There is something fundamentally eerie about the whole thing. Futuristic technologies are exciting and are paving the way to a magnificent human future...but I'd prefer that we have two--not eight--legs when we get there.

What other creatures do you think science should or should not combine?

1 comment:

  1. Ewww is right. I almost bought stock in Nexia but the creepy factor won. I was only going to RT a couple tweets but had to read this. Now to work...on taxes. They are creepy too.


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