There can be no doubt that the discovery of DNA and the mapping of the genome are remarkable medical breakthroughs. With such information about how genetics works, we can trace the path of genetic diseases, and predict where they might occur. We can work on cures for these diseases and prevention. There are so many important medical uses of the genome that it has already led to significant advances by scientists working to enhance the fortunes of humanity.
And then, there are other scientists who just seem to be having fun with it. Splicing genes just to see what happens and what kind of Frankenstein-esque animals and plants they can create. And those are the ones we’re taking a look at in our Top 10 Weirdest Experiments with Nature.
10. Scorpion Cabbage
Cabbage isn’t the most appealing vegetable ever – it’s a cheap filler for uninspiring stews, the basis of bizarre diets and an Eastern European staple. So, how to make the humble cabbage even less enticing? How about lining it with scorpion venom? That’s what the Oxford Institute of Virology, England, have done as they created a cabbage that contained the venom as a “natural” pesticide. The Institute first ran tests back in 1994, when scientists sprayed scorpion venom onto a field of cabbages, but now they have gone one step further, and integrated the venom into the cabbage itself, albeit in a form that is not toxic to humans. It means a saving on pesticide, as it’s contained within the cells of the plant but also means that the pesticide goes into your system. But it’s friendly pesticide, so that’s OK, right?
If you want an example of scientists just doing things for a science-y kick, look no further than the GloFish. Genetically engineered to glow in the dark, they serve little purpose other than looking pretty. The advertising blurbs says “They are a brilliant addition to any home, office, or classroom and they are perfect for hobbyists and beginners alike” and they come in 6 exciting colors. But is it right to mess with a fish’s DNA just to brighten up a classroom?
The research apparently started with a noble aim in mind – the fish were engineered as pollution detectors, glowing helpfully whenever they came in contact with a pollutant. Creating the 21st century equivalent of coalmine canaries is questionable in itself, but then to apply this same gene-meddling to a commercial venture? It’s a bit bizarre. But they’ll sure brighten up your dentist’s office.
There’s more meddling with nature for money in this next entry – the Grapple. It looks like an apple, tastes like a grape. And if you think that’s odd, that’s because it is.
Apparently kids can’t stand the apple-y taste of those apples they’ve been carrying around in their lunchboxes all these years. They prefer grapes! But no, grapes are too easy to squash and they’re so small, and just downright wrong-looking. If only someone could fuse these two things so that kids could enjoy the crunch of an apple with the sweetness of a grape. Well, science is here to help and now you can! Moms love them because they’re so healthy and kids love them because…kids love weird stuff. A prime example of a product you never knew you needed.
7. Flavr Savr Tomato
And just to prove the point that nature really isn’t good enough, here’s the flavr savr tomato. The first genetically-engineered food to be approved by the FDA, it was meant to retain its flavor far better than an ordinary tomato. The tomato was put on sale in 1994 and enjoyed a brief popular spell before its makers, Calgene, decided that the costs involved in making them wasn’t worth it.
The reaction was mixed, but mostly unenthusiastic. The flavr savr may have had a longer shelf life, but the variety it was bred from meant it wasn’t particularly tasty to begin with. It was an interesting breakthrough but ultimately failed.
6. Super-fast Mice
Having had some close encounters with mice recently, I can testify that they are pretty fast little creatures. Definitely fast enough to nibble a hole in my Easter Egg and run away before I can wield a trap at them. So, I don’t see the need to make them any faster. But the researchers at Lausanne College obviously did, and produced super-mice that are faster, stronger and healthier than ever before. They could run twice as far and twice as fast as other mice and were more resistant to the cold.
The implications of this are a bit scary – if you can make a master-rodent-race, can you use the same technology to produce super-soldiers? And what if “unfriendly” nations also got hold of the technology? Probably best to stick to setting up little mazes for mice for now…