Monday, October 6, 2014

The Center for PostNatural History

           Freckles, a BioSteel transgenic goat, Pittsburgh, 2014

Along a torn up section of Penn Avenue in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, there is a place unlike any place else in all of the world.  The Center for PostNatural History is in a nondescript building that houses its collection of all that man intends, and hadn't planned on, in genetically manipulating plant and animal life.  One may be inclined to think of genetically modifying an organism as something new, or newer, but it has been around for thousands of years, since the first wolf approached a campfire and bonded with those humans, since the first grasses could be coaxed into yielding larger grains and their seeds sown and the process repeated.  The former of these arguments is represented at the Center in the form of anatomical dimorphism in their assemblage of canine skulls.  I'll be honest, I never thought to compare and contrast a Chihuahua skull with that of a German Shepherd.  To me they are not just dogs, but pets, beloved members of the family unit.  Ah, but my naive prejudice borne out of my love of dogs prevented me from thinking meaningfully about the transition of wolf to dog.  Not a single dog, though, thousands of breeds of every size, shape, and color.  A wolf, generally, is a wolf.  The color may vary depending on climate, but the size and frame are so similar between wolves that they are what they are.
Pictured above is Freckles, the only BioSteel goat on public display in the world.  What is a BioSteel goat?  To quote from the FAQ posted by Freckles:  " A BioSteel goat has been genetically modified to produce the protein from Golden Orb Weaver spider silk in their milk".  Spider silk is one of the strongest fibers known to man, though the process by which the spider silk is gleaned from the milk is rather intensive, so I think it's going to be awhile before any sort of application of the stuff is seen beyond the prototype stage.  Still, the research was funded by the United States Department of Defense, so you know it's going to trot down a path best not taken.
The Center is a fascinating place and is highly recommended.  I hope that they're able to expand and add more exhibits in the future.

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