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.

Anonymous said...

Dear Omics,

My medical news website, Hot Medical News, features a variety of well-researched and entertaining medical articles, with some that are quirky and a little offbeat. I think your readers would find my material very interesting. If you agree, perhaps you might link to my site.

I have a new article on Jack Kevorkian, who is running for Congress. The article details his mental illness as assessed by a former Johns Hopkins Chairman of Psychiatry, Paul HcHugh. There is also valuable material on the issue of assisted suicide.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


Brian Carty, MD, MSPH

PS I also have a couple of articles about scandals in the Canadian and UK health systems which have had minimal coverage in the US media.