Sunday, June 08, 2008

Visiting a time capsule

The Next Generation & I went to the Boston Museum of Science today (we're members this year) and one of the exhibits where he lingered was the one of biotechnology.

I was a bit surprised to find that it dated to 1993; I didn't remember it always being in the spot it's in, so either my memory is flaky (not an unreasonable idea) or it was moved or in storage at some time. But it has been out for a while.

Simply looking at the list of sponsors is a bit of a memory jogger. While some are unchanged (BASF, Genencor), some simply went bust (Alpha-Beta), some were absorbed in corporate actions (Genetics Institute, Perseptive Biosystems) while others remain but under somewhat different names (lawyers Hale & Dorr have several more '&' in the name now; Biogen is now Biogen Idec).

Reading the text is interesting too. For example, we can learn that the human genome maybe, possibly might be sequenced one day.

One of the displays proposes that the dye indigo might one day be synthesized by bacteria (which had been demonstrated) instead of synthesized from petroleum (which had supplanted the original natural source about a century ago); that process has apparently not (yet?) become commercially feasible.

One of the games involves performing gene therapy for cystic fibrosis using a cold virus. That's certainly still a dream, but not for lack of trying.

Another game has you adding an antifreeze gene to tomatoes to prevent their freezing; this was once an active pursuit, but I haven't heard anything lately. Certainly the no-soften tomato was a commercial flop; I'm still eagerly awaiting some tomasil seeds.

This isn't meant to ridicule the display; in general I think it was well done & carefully thought out (Aspirin has been misspelled on the display all these years, but oh well!). Making interesting, interactive exhibits on molecular biology themes remains challenging.

Perhaps what has aged the least on the displays was the addressing of ethical concerns -- when does gene therapy go too far, what privacy rights do we have to our genes, etc.


Jonathan Badger said...

Reminds me of a T-shirt I have from a conference that took place in 1996. The sponsor on the back is "Recombinant Biocatalysis", that is to say, Diversa er... Verenium.

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