Original image

Test-Tube-to-Table: 11 Up-and-Coming Genetically Engineered Animals

Original image

© Najlah Feanny/CORBIS SABA

It's been almost 16 years since Dolly the cloned sheep was born. As she fades from our cultural memory, here’s a look at 11 up-and-coming (and often controversial) genetically engineered animals that might start appearing in backyards and on dinner tables near you.

1. Remote Control Rats

Photo: CC bclinesmith

By attaching wires to rats’ brains, a group of scientists at SUNY found in 2002 that they could get the little guys to turn left and right by remote control. While some animal rights activists freaked out—one of the scientists even admitted that the idea was “sort of creepy”—Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethics professor at Emory University, wasn’t moved. In an issue of GeneWatch Magazine last year, he asked if programming “roborats” was really that different from training dolphins to perform or oxen to pull.

2. Sexually Successful, Ageless Fruit Flies That Can Smell Light

Scientists have subjected fruit flies to all kinds of genetic alterations over the years, creating some that mate quickly, but carry a sterile gene, others that produce only male or only female offspring, others that avoid normal aging patterns, and others still that are able to “smell” blue light. While the USDA hoped the first two experiments could help control fruit fly populations in agricultural regions, the latter two have helped scientists understand how neurons and free radicals work within fruit flies—revelations that might one day extend to humans.

3. Enviropigs

Researchers at Ontario’s University of Guelph genetically altered a Yorkshire pig to produce poop that is 30-to-70% less polluting than the average pig’s poop—a major source of phosphorous in large-scale hog farming. By engineering the pig to digest a particular form of phosphorous in its food, the developers found they could reduce the total amount of phosphorous in the pig’s poop.

4. Glow-in-the-Dark Beagles

Photo: A fluorescent puppy at Seoul National University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. © JO YONG-HAK/Reuters/Landov

A team of South Korean scientists injected a gene into a two-year-old beagle named Tegon that made her glow in the dark. "Tegon opens new horizons since the gene injected to make the dog glow can be substituted with genes that trigger fatal human diseases," said lead researcher Lee Byeong-chun told Reuters.

Scientists hope that Tegon and other animals—including a rhesus monkey and piglets that have been made to glow—will help them identify complications from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

5. Fast-Growing Salmon

The FDA is currently reviewing the possibility of allowing genetically engineered salmon, which grow nearly twice as fast as regular salmon, into supermarkets and onto American dinner tables. If it’s allowed, these special salmon would be the first officially genetically engineered food to become a part of the human food supply (although there have been some isolated slip-ups in the past). Advocates say the fast-growing salmon would be a boon to some farmers, while critics argue that they would be bad for the environment, the health of salmon populations, and for humans who may get fewer nutrients and more allergens from the food.

6. Pharmaceutical Dairy Cows

Scientists have found a way to create medicine using proteins extracted from the milk of genetically-engineered goats, cows and rabbits. That’s actually pretty old news—scientists have been doing that since 1989—but the field has continued to grow recently as pharmaceutical manufacturers find ways to get farm animals to produce existing medicines at a cheaper cost than making them in the lab.

7. Obese, Mangy, Anxious, Tumor-Ridden Mice

Photo: Rick Eh?'s photostream

Over the course of many years, scientists have created all sorts of mice by “turning off”—or “knocking out,” to use the geneticists’ lexicon—one individual gene or another. By observing those “knock out mice,” scientists are often able to venture a guess as to what function a specific gene had. This is nothing new, but it has resulted in some fascinating insights recently about the genetic roots of cancer, anxiety, heart disease and, yes, why it is that some of us—both mice and humans—tend to get fat.

8. Neon Nemo

It’s now possible to take home your very own genetically engineered pet: the GloFish. Scientists originally engineered these small, fluorescent fish to glow whenever they encountered environmental pollutants in their habitats, but the commercial, just-for-fun pet version glows all the time. They’re available for purchase across the United States, but not in California.

9. Spare Part Pigs

It’s already fairly common to transplant pig heart valves into human patients, but recent scientific discoveries suggest it will soon be possible to transplant entire hearts—livers, kidneys and pancreases, too—from genetically modified pigs into human patients. These special “spare part pigs” have been designed so that the gene that would normally cause the human immune system to reject a foreign organ is out of service. Some ethicists have found this idea a little weird, but others have suggested that raising pigs for their organs is really no different than raising them for bacon.

10. Popeye the Pig

In 2002, a team of Japanese scientists from Kinki University became the first group to successfully add a functioning plant gene—a gene from spinach—to an animal. In this case, it was a pig. The resulting Spinach-Pig carried 20% less saturated fat in its carcass.

11. The Ear Mouse

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most famous real-live Frankenstein Frankenstein's Monster of its day, the so-called Vacanti Mouse was created by scientists in Massachusetts in 1995 to grow what appeared to be a human ear on its back. The scientists were hoping to demonstrate that it was possible to get living creatures to grow cartilage structures that could then be used for transplants onto human patients. The Ear Mouse, which quickly became famous and was featured on the Jay Leno show, was used instead in the late ‘90s as a poster-mouse, so to speak, for groups opposed to genetically modifying animals.

Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
Original image
Getty Images
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios