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Genetically Engineered Organism Museum?



(Selections from the specimen vault of the Center for PostNatural History.)

Genetically-modified animals might sound like something you'd find in Frankenstein's lab, but as Herman the Bull Herman and Dolly the Sheep have proven, they are quite real -- and oh, how far they've come. Herman and Dolly have since passed, but with a trip to Pittsburgh, Pa., science buffs can soak up information on transgenic mosquitoes, spider silk-producing goats and much more at the Center for PostNatural History.

Run by director Richard Pell, the museum is "dedicated to the advancement of knowledge relating to the complex interplay between culture, nature and biotechnology," its website says. "The mission of the Center for PostNatural History is to acquire, interpret and provide access to a collection of living, preserved and documented organisms of postnatural origin. Visitors can find a selection of living and dead species at the center, as well as photographs of specimens they were not able to procure.


(The temporary exhibitions room, currently featuring the visiting exhibit 'Seized'.)

On why he wanted to open the center, Pell says he sought to open the public's eyes to the many genetically-engineered organisms that haven't been highlighted in the media. "Around seven years ago I was introduced to the emerging field of synthetic biology by Chris Voigt," he explains in an interview with We Make Money Not Art. "At the same time, I was researching evolutionary biology and was struck by the fact that there is such resources devoted to documenting the natural world, but that the participation of humans in altering that living world is so rarely presented to the public. When I began looking at the collections of natural history museums I noticed that newly engineered organisms were not only absent from the collections, but that there was little interest in collecting them ... This [seemed] like a significant blind spot in the public consciousness worth addressing."


(CPNH Founder, Richard Pell, and Director of Science and Learning, Lauren Allen.)

But when visiting the museum, don't expect to see every genetically-modified mammal ever created. "Newly engineered transgenic organisms must pass a regulatory process maintained by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before they can leave the lab," Pell adds. "As a result we are limited in what living organisms we are able to exhibit."

You'll find more dead genetically-engineered organisms than live ones at the Pittsburgh center, but with provocative exhibits such as The Transgenic Organisms of New York, Permitted PostNatural Habitats and Atomic Age Rodents, you can't go wrong. Science lovers, take note.

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