Tag Archives: genetic engineering

Wonderful Things: Mighty mouse

On one side stands your typical everyday house mouse, cowering before his fearsome opponent: a mouse almost twice the size and boasting an incredible physique, nicknamed, appropriately, “Knock Out”.

Knock Out mouse vs wimpy mouse

Knock Out mouse to wimpy mouse: 'I'll eat you for breakfast"

So, is this brutal mismatch down to years of obsessive bodybuilding on the running wheel? Far from it. The only difference between these two individuals is that one mouse has had a specific gene type known as Myostatin (MSTN) removed or “knocked out”. This genetic alteration has allowed its muscles to grow to a colossal size. The ‘Mighty Mouse’ strain was first created by geneticists in 1997.

The implications of the discovery are vast. Such a technique might eventually allow the treatment of certain degenerative diseases such as muscular dystrophy and even allow humans to maintain a high level of muscle strength into old age. Athletes could, in theory, build muscle mass without exercising!

However, in an age where advertising, magazines, comic book movie adaptations and popular culture bombard us with images of bodies seeking perfection, it is argued that an important distinction needs to be made between using genetic technologies to treat those who are suffering, and using them on healthy people seeking to become superior to the average person.

Imagine if you were granted the power to use gene knock-out technology in humans to not only cure illness but also enhance an individuals abilities:

How would you decide who would be entitled to such treatment?

If you could genetically improve one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

Should people who can afford it, be able to pay to become ‘super-human’?

To see our monstrous Mighty Mouse and discover other gene modification techniques used on animals, visit the Who Am I gallery on the first floor in the Welcome wing.

-John Inch

Eat seaweed, make fuel.

Well, that’s what happens if you are colony of genetically engineered E.coli bacteria!

Scientists have given the bacteria genes that make it convert complex sugars in the seaweed into alcohol, which can then be used as a fuel. Seaweed is plentiful, and grows naturally in our oceans. A very good thing indeed!

Mmm, seaweed! Germ food?

Mmm, seaweed! Germ food?

Up til now, biofuels like ethanol have been made by fermeting sugarcane and maize (no E.coli involved), but that means using valuable food crop land (not to mention, food crops!) to produce the alcohol. Very controversial of course… And in the case of maize, it actually takes more energy to grow and process the crop than the energy gained from the ethanol produced!

The next step in this synthetic biology research is working out how to make this seaweedy process scaleable: biofuel production would need billions of tonnes of seaweed. A pilot plant is being built in Chile- we will stay tuned to hear how it works!

In the meantime, try your hand at engineering E.coli in Bacto-Lab, one of Futurecade‘s 4 games about current and future science. Futurecade launches next week (we are incredibly excited!!) with background science notes for each game so you can use it in the classroom to engage your students in a really fun way, and get them talking about how science that shapes their lives.