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Got Silk.
June 16, 2002 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Got Silk. ''Oh, it's not that weird,'' Nexia's president and C.E.O., Jeffrey D. Turner, says as we walk around the pens, being nibbled constantly by aroused goats. ''What we're doing here is ingeniously simple,'' he says. ''We take a single gene from a golden orb-weaving spider and put it into a goat egg. The idea is to make the goat secrete spider silk into its milk.''
posted by srboisvert (18 comments total)

 
It's an interesting article; I learned a lot about spider silk.

Seriously, though, this seems like a great thing. No animals being harmed, and new, biodegradable material useful for any number of things. Everyone's happy... right?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 10:21 AM on June 16, 2002


Sure ... until these goats escape into the wild and begin weaving big-ass webs to snare humans.
posted by rcade at 12:03 PM on June 16, 2002


This reads like a cross between Jurassic Park and an advert for Spiderman. Is it real? If so, it's horrendous. Surely milking goats for spider silk is something inherently un-natural and therefore harmful to the animals. After all, if battery farmed hens are considered cruel, how much more cruel is the goat silk concept?
posted by skylar at 12:03 PM on June 16, 2002


Well, milking goats for milk is inherently un-natural, come to that. Unless you're a kid.
posted by rory at 1:03 PM on June 16, 2002


''In the future, animals will be our factories,'' Turner says as we plod through the facility. ''Very cheap factories.''

Sounds shocking at first, but I'm sure the first person who figured out how to get an ox to pull his plow, and the first person to put on a wool sweater, felt the same way. This just takes it a step further.

I do find the attempted spin control pretty amusing, though. Oh, we're not doing genetic engineering -- this is biomimicry. Completely different. Not at all like those creepy cloned sheep.
posted by ook at 1:30 PM on June 16, 2002


The technology is here, sure enough, but we lack an adequate social infrastructure to ensure that genetic research and experimentation is done responsibly. What do Nexia's investors care about possible irreversible and long-term side effects of their work? There will certainly be problems caused by genetic experimentation, problems discovered only after it's too late to prevent them; problems that impact public health and for which Nexia's venture capitalists are not held accountable. Eventually we will come to see such problems as a sort of pollution, and we'll wonder why no one moved to prevent it.

Genetic engineering should be pursued in small quantities with a lot of time taken to study possible repercussions on the micro, macro, and ecological scales. The mechanism of market capitalism that is pushing this work forward operates on the opposite principle, striving to deploy new technolgies as quickly and widely as possible with a minimum of regulation. The market needs to be replaced or held in check by some entity or principle that has at its core the long-term interests of our planet as a substrate for intelligent life.

What is really alarming is the adeptness with which articles such as this are seeding us with a new verbal context for accepting this industry. The descendents of a generation that bought Better Living Through Chemistry, we are now ready to swallow chipper phrases like "biomimicry", the "photocopiers of the gene world", and "harnessing" nature rather than altering it. Cute sound bytes aside, what's going on here is very troubling.
posted by maniabug at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2002


I'm not so sure this is unnatural. How do we know goats wouldn't have evolved like this anyway, given 100 million years of so of Natural Selection?
posted by obedo at 2:03 PM on June 16, 2002


horny goats chewing pens? i just don't get it
posted by navin at 2:21 PM on June 16, 2002


What's not natural is the pace with which changes are being made. Contrast thousands of initiatives like this carried out over the next year or two with the gradual evolution of species over the course of millenia. Natural selection takes place in habitats that have time to respond constructively.

They say it tastes and looks just like goat milk, but I gotta wonder what would happen to a kid raised on it. Isn't it likely to be problematic for the animal's kidneys, liver, etc.? And isn't the inevitable accidental breeding of these animals with farm animals going to necessitate difficult testing and quarantine measures to be paid for out of our taxes?
posted by maniabug at 2:25 PM on June 16, 2002


The technology is here, sure enough, but we lack an adequate social infrastructure to ensure that genetic research and experimentation is done responsibly. What do Nexia's investors care about possible irreversible and long-term side effects of their work? There will certainly be problems caused by genetic experimentation, problems discovered only after it's too late to prevent them; problems that impact public health

All hale the pregognative abilities of Maniabug!!!

Seeer of the future!
posted by delmoi at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2002


What's not natural is the pace with which changes are being made. Contrast thousands of initiatives like this carried out over the next year or two with the gradual evolution of species over the course of millenia. Natural selection takes place in habitats that have time to respond constructively.

They say it tastes and looks just like goat milk, but I gotta wonder what would happen to a kid raised on it. Isn't it likely to be problematic for the animal's kidneys, liver, etc.? And isn't the inevitable accidental breeding of these animals with farm animals going to necessitate difficult testing and quarantine measures to be paid for out of our taxes?
posted by maniabug at 2:40 PM on June 16, 2002


Contrast thousands of initiatives like this carried out over the next year or two with the gradual evolution of species over the course of millenia. Natural selection takes place in habitats that have time to respond constructively.

Not if you ask the late Steven Jay Gould, who along with Niles Eldrige, earned his academic stripes with the theory of punctuated equilibrium (evolution by jerks or punk eck to its critics). They trounced the notion of phyletic gradualism like the Lakers stomped the Nets (though it took longer - phyletic gradualism may be suspect but conservative scientific gradualism does appear to exist).
posted by srboisvert at 3:06 PM on June 16, 2002


I can't believe no one has commented on the 'aroused goats' angle of the post yet.
The idea of goats that secrete spider silk seriously creeps me out, but then again I'm arachnophobic. How much harder would it be to engineer a tailored microorganism that produces silk proteins? Judging from the article, most of the protein extraction and thread formation is done by machines; the goats just produce the protein in the first place. There's got to be a better way than messing around with all the tedious lead time on breeding mammals, waiting for them to come to maturity, etc. The whole plan strikes me as something someone came up with after reading Jurassic Park one too many times; hell, the article even sounds like a tour of InGen: The Early Years.
posted by darukaru at 3:08 PM on June 16, 2002


Darukaru: It would probably be more expensive to harvest the protein from bacteria, i.e. the media would be more expensive than hay and the fermentation equipment would be more expensive than a barn. Also, the fermentation conditions would have to be closely monitored and maintained by equipment which also costs money. The goat takes care of all that automatically.
posted by percine at 3:43 PM on June 16, 2002


Here's my question. If spider silk is stronger than Kevlar but biodegradable, will bulletproof vests made with goat silk come with expiration dates?
posted by swerve at 5:02 PM on June 16, 2002


The idea of goats that secrete spider silk seriously creeps me out, but then again I'm arachnophobic. How much harder would it be to engineer a tailored microorganism that produces silk proteins?

Multicellular organism gooood, single-cell baaaaad!

So a web-spinning goat is creepy, but a million bazillion web-spinning bacteria aren't?

Doctor: 'I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you have a bacterial infection. We'll have to put you on a course of antibiotics. Oh, and you'll need this duster.'
posted by rory at 2:44 AM on June 17, 2002


FYI this story appeared in McSweeney's #3 in 1999. The print version, that is. Their online content is at McSweeneys.
posted by engelr at 3:50 AM on June 17, 2002


Heh. I consider myself spanked, rory and percine.
posted by darukaru at 5:05 AM on June 17, 2002


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