We were talking to these kids who work with this bacteria called E. coli that smells like poop. It's uncomfortable. So as a matter-of-fact solution to their practical problem, they designed a different E. coli. A friend of theirs at Purdue sent them a wintergreen gene, plucked from some other creature, and they plopped in the wintergreen to mask the poop smell, thereby solving the yuck factor of being in the lab by simply creating an E. coli that had never existed in the 70- to 100-million-year history of E. coli. Suddenly, their lab is smelling wintergreeny as opposed to poopy. Then they have another problem: How long do they have to wait to work with it? So they put a trigger onto the E. coli, which when it actually slows down its multiplication rate, it smells like a big, rich, creamy banana. If they smell banana, then they go in and do their work. I sat them down and said, "Did any of you consider the sheer awesomeness of what you just did? You created essentially a creature new to nature." And this 19-year-old goes, "Uh, yeah?"Is this not trolling for divine wrath?
Apr 25, 2008
smell the hubris
Snipped from an interview with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of NPR's Radio Lab: