Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

They're blinding me with science (in bed)

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I am starting to think the scientific community does not have humanity's best interests at heart.

I am feeling this way because of a disturbing global trend in which scientists take genetic material from one animal and stick it into another animal because (Why not?) it gives the second animal the ability to glow in the dark.

I am not kidding about this scientific trend, which I first became aware of about seven years ago when I wrote a heartbreaking column announcing that Canada had lost the race to develop the world's first glow-in-the-dark pig.

Back then, a group of Taiwanese researchers had extracted genetic material from jellyfish and injected it into pig embryos to genetically engineer porkers that glow fluorescent green in the dark.

Typically, scientists say they do wacky things such as this because it helps them better understand human diseases. They also insist they read Playboy magazine for the articles, so there's that to think about.

I am not a scientist, but I will confess that when I first heard about the fluorescent pigs I thought they were a pretty sweet invention because they'd make awesome Christmas and/or Halloween decorations.

But, naturally, the scientific community did not stop there. No, since the glowing pigs were unveiled, researchers have switched on a barnyard full of fluorescent critters, including mice, monkeys, cats and -- this is where I started to get worried -- a batch of baby beagles that glow red under ultraviolet light.

But I realized things had got out of control the other day when I spotted a flock of online news reports stating scientists in Uruguay had taken fluorescent proteins from jellyfish and inserted them into nine sheep to create -- and, no, you cannot get them at IKEA -- sheep that live in the ocean and sting your feet when you step on them.

Sorry, my mistake. In fact, they created sheep that glow fluorescent green in the dark, which explains the slightly revised wording in the following classic nursery rhyme:

"Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,

And can't tell where to find them;

Leave them alone, and they'll come home,

Glowing like patio lanterns!"

The scientific point I need to make is that the world is not going to be a better place because scientists have now given sheep the ability to glow in the (bad word) dark.

I think the world has certain expectations of sheep, none of which involves using them as flashlights. For starters, we expect sheep to be delicious, especially with a nice mint sauce.

We also expect sheep to provide us with fluffy wool to ensure our great aunts can knit us cheesy Christmas sweaters festooned with tiny reindeers and snowmen.

The main function of sheep, however, is to give us something to count when we're having trouble nodding off to sleep. Here's how Wikipedia puts it: "Counting sheep is a mental exercise used in some cultures as a means of lulling oneself to sleep.

"In most depictions of the activity, the practitioner envisions an endless series of identical white sheep jumping over a fence, while counting them as they do so."

OK, I'm down with that.

Now imagine yourself lying in bed in a darkened room when, suddenly and without warning, a flock of genetically modified sheep glowing like mutant nuclear reactors starts leaping over your mattress.

Not going to be catching 40 winks any time soon, are you?

I didn't think so. That's why I am getting alarmed about the growing ranks of glowing animals and I think somebody should tell the world's scientists to smarten up.

But not right now.

Right now, I need to take a nap, so I'd appreciate it if somebody could turn off those sheep on their way out.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2013 A2

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