Clones and Mutants
• Clone Farms
Juan showed a series of photos from his October trip to a farm in Argentina. With simple equipment that fits on a desk, the farmer cloned and implanted 60 embryos that morning. All of the cows in his field came from a cell sample from the ear of one cow.
Some of the cows are genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical proteins in their milk (human EPO). These animal bioreactors are very efficient and could replace large buildings of traditional manufacturing capacity.
Whether stem cell research and treatment for ALS, or cloning cows, Argentina is one of the countries boldly going where the U.S. Federal government fears to tread.
• Three Wing Chickens
Juan also showed a genetically engineered three wing chicken. The homeobox gene that has been modified is affectionately called “Sonic Hedgehog” (his son really likes SEGA!)
The homeobox genes are my favorites. They are like powerful subroutine calls that have structural phenotypic effects.
I recommend Juan’s book As the Future Catches You for an exploration of the economic imperative of technology education, especially literacy in the modern languages of digital code and genetic code. And for a populist description of the homeobox genes, I recommend Matt Ridley’s Genome, a very fun primer on genetics. Here is a selection:
“Hedgehog has its equivalents in people and in birds. Three very similar genes do much the same thing in chicks and people… The hedgehog genes define the front and rear of the wing, and it is Hox genes that then divide it up into digits. The transformation of a simple limb bud into a five-fingered hand happens in every one of us, but it also happened, on a different timescale, when the first tetrapods developed hands from fish fins some time after 400 million years ago.”
"So simple is embryonic development that it is tempting to wonder if human engineers should not try to copy it, and invent self-assembling machines.”
One of Juan’s slides was the first hand drawn map of the Internet, circa 1969. Larry Roberts had drawn that map, and happened to be in the audience to brainstorm after the talk.
P.S. The most popular phone at our conference was the Moto Razor, Chinese edition.
P.S.S. The most popular blog photo so far (with over 12,000 visitors) is a simple message…