Odd Science News


A couple of items in the science news today made me go “Huh?”  The first was a report that orangutans in the Milwaukee County Zoo are being trained to use iPads.  They are learning how to draw on the iPad with their fingers (there’s even a YouTube video.)  Eventually researchers hope to expand the program to other zoos and even use Skype so the orangutans can interact.

It started out as a joke because there was an April Fool’s Day article about gorillas using iPads in a British newspaper.  When Scott Engel heard about the idea he thought it might actually have merit and contacted the Zoo.  Now he works with two orangutans three or four days a week.  In addition to learning to draw, they like watching TV on the iPad and “reading” an interactive book.  (Insert Planet of the Apes joke of your choice here.)

The second story that caught my eye was one about turning mouse embryos transparent.  There’s an awesome photo here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/08/31/how-to-make-a-transparent-mouse-with-a-few-simple-ingredients/

Scientists came up with a formula using common substances such as urea and glycerol, put it on the embryos and waited two weeks.  Voila!  It is clear (he he) that this is a tremendous help to researchers who need to see inside the tissues without destroying them.  Unfortunately they can only use it on dead tissue right now, but the hope is that one day we’ll be able to do the same thing with living animals.

The last article that amazed me was one about growing meat in a laboratory.  Scientists have been working on this for a while, but a report just came out that quotes one expert as saying the fake meat is only six months away.  “Fake” isn’t really the right term, though, since the meat is made from animals.  It’s made from pig stem cells and fed with horse fetal serum (sounds yummy.)

This could be a great boon for the environment and for people who object to killing animals for food.  There are a number of problems to overcome, though.  Obviously it is not financially feasible to replace natural meat with lab-grown meat at this time, but if this can be surmounted, there is still the appearance and taste of the meat to deal with.  The lab-grown meat is white since there is no blood in it, (I know you’re thinking “Pig Stem Cells–the Other White Meat,”) and it’s unclear how the meat will taste.

Given the clout of the meat industry in this country, I do wonder if we’ll ever see this artificially produced protein in our grocery stores.  I’d certainly be willing to give it a try if the cost, taste and nutrition were comparable to the current products.

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