Bringing back prehistoric animals has been a trope in science fiction for a very, very long time. So far, none of these efforts have come to fruition.
Scientists have been trying to clone the wooly mammoth for over 10 years, and despite continuous reassurance that we're on the brink of a major breakthrough, no one's pulled it off yet. The only prehistoric creatures we've successfully revived is bacteria -- and even they weren't really dead, just suspended inside a salt crystal or in the stomach of a fossilized bee. This is the scientific equivalent of winning a bag of Skittles in the lottery.
Still, though. Skittles.
Most recently, a scientist announced his intention to reverse-engineer a dinosaur from a modern chicken by systematically removing DNA, because that makes nothing but sense.
However, scientists have succeeded in reviving the genetic material of an extinct predator called the Tasmanian tiger, a nine-foot-long giant marsupial capable of hopping on its hind legs like a kangaroo and hiding its young in a pouch, presumably to launch them out as bloodthirsty living projectiles.
We quite rightly hunted these monsters to extinction, and the last one died in captivity in 1936, presumably in an emotionally stirring display like when Draco the last dragon dies in DragonHeart.
Otherwise known as "the saddest Sean Connery-related moment of our childhood."
In 2008, scientists succeeded in splicing genetic material from the tiger into a lab mouse, because, "Of all the DNA that's ever existed, only one percent is presently in circulation. The rest is lost to history, along with the insights it might provide. By bringing back lost genes, scientists can see what they do."
That's right: Science injected a mouse with Tasmanian tiger genes just to see what would happen.
"This is going to rock tits."
The extinct-animal shenanigans don't stop there. The possibility of splicing mice with pterodactyl wings has been raised, which is the greatest idea ever in the history of thought. And in 2009, scientists successfully recreated the Tasmanian tiger's entire gene sequence from museum specimens, suggesting that the animal could eventually be successfully cloned.
Seriously, this can't be more than two years away.
In February 1951, Henrietta Lacks had a cell sample taken from a particularly nasty tumor. She died later that year, but in the hands of scientists, the sample lived much, much longer.
Even after the tumor was removed from Lacks' body, researchers found, it was ravenous. It devoured nutrients. If introduced into a dish with another type of cell, it would overwhelm it within weeks. And it multiplied and multiplied, in only two-thirds of the time it took other cells to do the same.
At which point it joined the Uncanny X-Men.
Lacks' cells spread like the plague among the scientific community, partly because of their incredible research value and also because they literally spread like a plague. They couldn't be contained -- they sneaked onto unrelated samples and traveled from lab to lab, some of the cells even making their way into Russia at the height of the Cold War.
HeLa, as the tumor was called, both to protect Lacks' identity and screw her family out of untold amounts of cash, is what's called an "immortal" cell line, meaning that it can reproduce infinitely, and it's also a laboratory "weed" that inevitably spreads and contaminates other cell samples. It has been a boon to the medical community and invaluable for research.
HeLa cells, seen here plotting world domination.
So what's weird about that? Think about this: To date, scientists have grown around 20 tons of HeLa cells, 400 times the woman's body weight when she was alive.
And roughly the same weight as Tyrannosaurus rex.
All of this happened without her family's knowledge or consent. It wasn't until the 1970s, when her children received a call for assistance in testing, that they learned a that zombie blob of their mother's body tissue was still alive and squishing.
Over half a century later, HeLa continues to thrive. It's even continued to evolve. Some scientists are ready to declare HeLa an actual unique species -- aside from its origin, it eats and reproduces independently like any other unicellular species, despite being the unholy John Carpenteresque mutant offspring of a lady who passed away 60 years ago.
If only there were some miraculous creature that didn't think or feel pain, that only grew plumper and more scrumptious until you could tear it apart with your teeth without guilt.
Enter living bacon.
Scientists have produced semiliving, nonsentient blobs of edible pork cells. It's not even a new thing: Back in 2002, NASA successfully engineered living goldfish meat as part of an experiment to produce replenishable food supplies for astronauts, because for some goddamn reason NASA thinks people enjoy eating goldfish.
There are other advantages to cloned meat: It can be produced cheaply without harming real animals and produced in large enough quantities that it could reduce world hunger and negate the environmental damage caused by the meat industry. Assuming, you know, people want to eat quasi-living blobs of pork.
"We'll eat anything, as long as it's salty and fills the hole in our empty lives."
The meat starts as pig stem cells, which are nurtured until they grow into muscle cells that are identical to edible pork, although they require exercise to be made palatable. "We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it," one scientist admits.
Just toss this on a treadmill for a few minutes and you're ready to go.
No one's actually tried the stuff yet, but a scientist describes the texture as "firm but a little squishy and moist." After pork, ground beef seems like the next plausible step, although we can't imagine McDonald's hamburgers tasting any more like synthetic depression than they already do.
Fletcher is a freelance writer and author of a forthcoming memoir to be published in late 2011.
Be sure to pick up our bestselling book where we provide you with fabulous recipes on living recipe.
For actual mad science, check out 9 Real Life Mad Scientists and 5 Works of Legitimate Mad Science Passed Off as Art.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn about Brockway's private genetic engineering projects.
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