Transgenic art
January 17, 2005 7:59 PM   Subscribe

The Cactus Project is a "transgenic artwork involving the fusion of human genetic material into the cactus genome resulting in the cactus expressing human hair." See also the Artist links link for more transgenic art.
posted by dhruva (25 comments total)
Is the carpet the same colour as the upholstery?
posted by taursir at 8:16 PM on January 17, 2005

So I’m losin’ hair and a cactus is growin’ it? Oh yes, life is fair.
posted by arse_hat at 9:01 PM on January 17, 2005

I see a far distant future, long after our current civilization has fallen into a more primitive post-technological state. Further down the line, as humanity has been restoring the sciences without the record of our society, I imagine future biologists, developing the study of evolution anew, being forced to abandon their theories because there is no way for natural selection to account for the flora and fauna found in their environment.
posted by sourwookie at 9:20 PM on January 17, 2005

This is a great post. Though I doubted it at first, their explanation of the process was quite convincing, although I am certainly not one to judge truth when it comes to genetics. I think it is both wonderful and frightening that something such as a cactus with human hair is possible. It is a religious sort of thought to imagine all species eventually transubstantiating into god, but that's the kind of image this derives.
posted by krysalist at 10:08 PM on January 17, 2005

I majored in biology and see weird/gross things all the time that really don't bother me. But this? This is gross.

... Does it shed the hair?
posted by Plinko at 10:23 PM on January 17, 2005

Sure, but try getting a bush to grow a brain.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:30 PM on January 17, 2005

This is neat, but when can I grow spines?

Oh, and weapons-grade pandemonium wins.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:45 PM on January 17, 2005

You know... I think a hipster was behind this.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:57 AM on January 18, 2005

A balding, prickly hipster.

p.s. very nice indeed, weapons-grade p.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:53 AM on January 18, 2005

Sigh. It's only a matter of time before one of those little buggers gets frosted tips and leases a Jeep YJ.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:12 AM on January 18, 2005

No way sourwookie. There's a simple natural selection explanation: the hair is to keep the cactus warm in the winter.
posted by breath at 2:48 AM on January 18, 2005

posted by The God Complex at 4:40 AM on January 18, 2005

This frightens me far more than GM food and anything scientists might be trying to do with cloning and gene splicing.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:10 AM on January 18, 2005

It's not only the president, it's also a client!
posted by id at 5:13 AM on January 18, 2005

This is complete bullcrap. Their explanation is that they transfered the Keratin gene into the Cactus. As far as I can tell, this is totally insufficient to make a cactus grow hair. All of the transgenic crops that have been developed thusfar have simply been a transfer of a single gene which is expressed throughout the plant. If you transfered a Keratin gene into a cactus, you would simply get random Keratin protein inside the plant. In order to make a cactus grow hair, it would need a hair folicle, and regulatory pathways to make the Keratin express in the right place, and grow outward. That would take a lot more than one gene, and I doubt that you could make the human genes that produce a hair folicle in human skin work with the radically different skin of a cactus. Note that they don't explain any of this on their web page, and critically, provide no close-up pictures.
posted by cameldrv at 5:30 AM on January 18, 2005

cameldrv: This is just an art project. I suspect "cactus grows human hair" might have made one of the news outlets.
posted by Ynoxas at 6:23 AM on January 18, 2005

While I agree with Cameldrv this is not true, I know someone who is working w/ stem cells and nerve tissue and adds jelly fish and other genes to cells to express colors in mammalian maybe something like this (2 very different "hosts" could express the same gene? The changes also become permanent and occur in the offspring (mice).
posted by metoo at 6:36 AM on January 18, 2005

metoo, I knew someone doing the same thing. Was this for cancer research? I think this is one of those techniques that's fairly widespread by now.

As for the experiment, a cactus would not only have to have the ability to create hair material, but also some sort of way to extrude it in a similar fashion (to make it morphologically similar to hair). I'm not literate enough in biology to know whether this sort of transfer is possible from animal to plant, but it looks like the spines are being used as a mechanism to extrude the "hair."

That said, I think transgenic art is pretty cool. Even after a friend kept acting like he was going to pour a vial of the enzyme that make jellyfish fluoresce into my dinner.
posted by mikeh at 6:57 AM on January 18, 2005

mikeh, the research is neurological stem cell transplantation and (so I've been told) currently successfully used to enable paralyzed mice to walk again.....i don't have many details, as the researcher is publishing, patenting, and looking for venture captial and so not forthcoming w/ specifics. Current research was funded through NIH/Howard Hughes I believe.

As to jellyfish know greens are good for you, right?
posted by metoo at 8:07 AM on January 18, 2005

A number of cacti already grow hair. If one of these was groomed (and dyed?) properly it might give the effect of her supposed "transgenic" cactus.

then again it's much easier to stick a few hairs on there and take a bad photo.

P.S. I suspect that's a Euphorbia and not a cactus at all.
posted by mmoncur at 8:14 AM on January 18, 2005

This is complete bullcrap.

Agreed. See the Museum of Hoaxes.
posted by raygirvan at 8:53 AM on January 18, 2005

I agree with everyone that says this is a big fakeout. There have been a few real artists working in biotechnology though, for example this.
metoo: While stem cells are pretty amazing, it would be damn surprising if they chimerized with a cactus. The extracellular environment is way different, for one; in plants you have a rigid cell wall under tension, which would not be hospitable to an animal cell. In any case, even should your cells survive, , you'd have a hell of a time convincing them to make any sort of complex structure like a follicle. In the mice you mention the stem cells respond to all sorts of endogenous chemotactic factors which guide their development, which would not be present in a cactus.
posted by monocyte at 9:27 AM on January 18, 2005

I will now splice cactus genes into my head in an attempt to grow spikes.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:38 AM on January 18, 2005

The thing that I find fascinating about transgenic art projects is that the audience, including professional artists and art critics, is willing to fall right into the (expected) debates about ethics, the role of humans, scientific credibility, etc. without addressing the real art project: the social experiment that results from the presentation of hairy cacti and glowing bunnies.

I went to an Eduardo Kac lecture last year. Throughout his talk, he seemed to be pushing the audience to start breaking out of the bubble of "ethics" and into a larger discussion of "why are we all here listening to you?", but no one would make the leap. His artistic career is built on the study of how people react to strange ideas -- see his website for examples -- but the most he can get out of his audence on the subject is a vague feeling of discomfort.

Make no mistake, these projects are not science, they are performance art.

On preview: Fuzzy Monster, I'm with you.
posted by medialyte at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2005

Loved the anecdote about Eduardo Kac and the ethics "bubble."

Re: "why are we all here listening to you," Kac himself might have contemplated "Why am I unwilling to listen to 'my audience'?"

"Art" can be a bubble, too, even when it looks like a high school science project.
posted by Julie at 11:20 AM on January 18, 2005

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