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Beaty Biodiversity Museum

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia is a newly open research centre and museum focusing on all thing natural and all things naturally diverse.
Read more about the museum here +

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Wednesday
Aug062008

Herman the Bull

 

Herman the Bull was the first genetically modified mammal in the world. He spent his old age in a stable in the grounds of Naturalis, the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, Holland.  He died on April 2nd 2004 at the vast old age of 13 years - one of the longest lived bulls to ever grace the Netherlands.  After Herman died, he was - of course - stuffed.   He will be on permanent display as part of the museum's Research in Progress exhibition. 

The museum feels it necessary to defend their choice of stuffing and displaying Herman.  On their website, they post the following discussion:

Naturalis, being the national natural history museum of the Netherlands, is the best place for information on biodiversity. Thousands of animal species, from insects to mammals, are kept in the Naturalis collection tower, which is the national natural history archive. Herman the Bull represents the start of a new era in the way Man deals with nature. Herman is an icon of scientific progress and the subsequent public discussion of these issues. Information and public discussion remain important. And that is the symbolic value of having Herman the Bull in Naturalis.

Read more about Herman here +

Wednesday
Nov282007

Dolly the Sheep

Dolly died and now she's stuffed. Born on July 5th, 1996, Dolly was named for the mammary cell from which she was cloned (in a gentle nod to Dolly Parton), and lived for 6 years at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland in which she was genetically engineered by somatic cell nuclear transfer. She died on Valentine's Day in 2003 and her stuffed remains were put on display 2 months later at the National Museum of Scotland.

Dolly_Sheep

But if you happen to stand in front of the mute stuffed frame that once was Dolly, there really isn’t much to look at. Dolly is just a sheep, and sheep are not spectacular. Indeed, as a triumph of science and human ingenuity, she is exceptionally unimpressive. She wasn’t engineered to grow blue wool; she isn’t an extra large sheep or a pocket-sized sheep; nor does she possess any other irregularities that might make Dolly any more fascinating than the typical basic bland sheep. In contrast, the images of the Vicanti mouse are vastly more arresting: a laboratory mouse bearing what appears to be a human ear on its back. Neither the mouse nor the ear were genetically engineered (the "ear" is grown with human cartilage cells over a biodegradable form), at least this creature visually demonstrates the power of science at work. But then, Dolly’s visible normalcy is what makes her potent: Dolly is famous quite precisely because she is indistinguishable from any other sheep, which is to say, to the eye at least, Dolly is dull.

But surely, Dolly could never be dull considering what she symbolizes. For some, scientific victory and hope. For others, dark human transgression into a nature’s secret places. Either way, the very fact that Dolly exists in material form is extraordinary.

Dolly might be considered as a mere souvenir from a successful scientific experiment. But I think her material significance is far more mysterious than that. With her unexceptional curly white wool and that benign expression of the placid ruminant, Dolly signifies not just the power of science, but the power of an idea made material, and not just any idea, but an idea infused with near primordial human desire: the desire to know nature, and so, manipulate it, which is really quite an accomplishment for a sheep.

Monday
Jul092007

The Heads of Legends

Legends of the bull-fighting arena in Torre del Oro, a tapas bar in Madrid.  The walls are papered in decades of photographs capturing the grissly successes of both matadors and bull.  Below is the head of Barbero surrounded by the knives which were finally used to kill him after he wrecked havoc in the arena.  Images taken from Ayash Basu's beautiful online gallery: http://www.ayashbasu.com/photoblog/index.php?showimage=236 

torre_del_oro.jpg