Genetic engineering scares a lot of people, partly because we love making sci-fi movies and video games starring walking humanoid horrors that resulted from experiments gone wrong. And, while the idea of something like growing a human heart in a sheep's body just seems wrong somehow, it probably seems less wrong to the person who actually needs a heart transplant.
What we're trying to say is that as weird as it is, genetic engineering may save your life some day thanks to things like ...
6Organ Transplants. From Sheep.
A while back, a terrifying headline made the rounds on the Internet: "Scientists Create a Sheep That's 15 Percent Human."
London Evening Standard
That's still more human than Gilbert Gottfried.
"Holy shit! It's an actual sheeple! What part of it is human? The face? It's the face, isn't it?" But this deserves some explaining, because what they're doing is kind of amazing, and could save a whole bunch of lives.
The idea is to find another source for transplant organs, so that people don't sit on a long waiting list in hopes that some other person will die with a perfectly intact liver or heart (or whatever) before their own fails. The process they're using at the University of Nevada involves injecting human stem cells into a sheep fetus and no, this does not create a monstrous human/sheep hybrid ready to escape into the countryside and terrorize the, uh, grass.
If you were Saint Augustine, you'd be terrified right now.
Instead, the cells circulate through the sheep's system and alter its liver, heart, lungs and whatever else so that they have some human tissue and thus would (hopefully) be able to be transplanted into some sick kid somewhere.
This isn't just at the test tube stage, either. On a farm right now they have a sheep whose liver is 40 percent human. Since the liver's cells regenerate, that means they might be extremely close to being able to do a partial transplant or repair on a human without drawing from the human liver waiting list. Right now, there are 17,000 people waiting for a liver in the U.S., and they will have to wait around a year to get one ... if they survive that long.
"A sheep liver? I'll eat dung beetles if it means drinking again."
And by the way, don't freak out over the idea of having an animal part in your body. Scientists have been using valves from pig hearts to repair humans for years, and this has resulted in not a single Batman villain.
5Disease Vaccinations Via Food
Hey, do you like needles? Do you remember being a kid and getting stabbed with a different vaccination every year or so? How about if, instead of having a sharp metal object punched through your skin, you could get that disease fighting-power from the food you eat?
"We're out of oranges. You'll have to bleed."
With the magic of genetic engineering, potatoes have been successfully modified to carry the vaccination for Hepatitis B -- a virus that infects about 350 million people a year, and kills a million of them.
Meanwhile, potatoes are only deadly combined with grease and salt.
In the world of medicine, oral supplements are always preferable to injection -- needles have the nasty habit of spreading infection, especially in developing countries where sterilization practices might not be so great. Getting the vaccines into the food would make distribution a shitload safer, and easier. And the potatoes aren't just theory -- they've grown them and fed them to humans in trials, most of whom showed a boost in their immune response as a result.
Soon you'll be able to pig out and treat your syphilis at the same time.
By the way, if altering foods to make them naturally fight disease sounds crazy, keep in mind that this has already happened. Ever heard of iodized salt? You most likely have it in your kitchen. With only the tiniest of change in flavor, scientists were able to infuse regular table salt with iodine, which prevents things like mental retardation and goiters. So, yeah, if the changes can be done safely, disease-fighting food can change the world.
"It's cocaine, infused with Vitamin B."
But even if humans aren't eating the modified food directly, it can still save lives. The people who started the cloning fad with Dolly the Sheep (the Roslin Institute) have figured out how to make chickens lay eggs with cancer-fighting proteins. You wouldn't eat them to cure your cancer -- they would replace the enormously expensive process pharmaceutical companies use now to grow those proteins (one reason cancer-fighting drugs are so costly). After saving countless lives, those same chickens could then presumably be safely killed, battered and fried.
It's delicious, and it prevents erectile dysfunction.
Ah, chickens, is there anything you can't do?