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Last night I watched a pretty cool Discovery Channel special on "superhero science", in which they explored the plausibility of various superhero powers coming to reality via current scientific trends. They were all Marvel characters, though nobody pointed that out on the show, and at times it was a little goofy. But many of the segments were extremely interesting.

While talking about Spider-Man, they referenced this path of research:

In a concrete bunker on a mothballed Air Force base in Plattsburgh, New York, two Nigerian dwarf goats named Mille and Muscade joyfully munch grass and slurp water. Oddly, they are protected from intruders by security guards and razor wire.

Only 20 weeks old, these sister beasts warrant tight security because their milk is highly prized by the U.S. military. Their 70,000-gene chromosomes have been manipulated to include a gene from the orb weaver, a palm-size spider that spins the world's toughest natural material. Researchers are "growing" the spider's silk inside Mille and Muscade's mammary glands.

These strands of silk, just 3 microns thick, are three times as tough as DuPont's bulletproof Kevlar. A woven cable as thick as your thumb can bear the weight of a jumbo jet. Once perfected, the silk will be used for featherweight ballistic vests, medical sutures and artificial ligaments.

Yes, extremely cool stuff, harvesting spider silk proteins from gen-mod goat milk. Of course, they haven't quite perfected the process by which the spider's spinnarets excrete the proteins into real spider silk...but they're working on it. I'd heard of this story in passing before, but it was interesting to hear the actual researchers discussing it.

There was also a profile of Cyberlink, a company that makes a computer interface that works by detecting facial muscle movements and changes in brain waves. You can buy one for a couple thousand dollars here. Not quite telepathy, but still pretty cool.

And they mentioned this study, which created gen-mod "Mighty Mice", bulked up little super-strong mice.
What was interesting about this study was that they used a virus as a Trojan Horse to alter the genetic structure of adult mice. Gene therapy has been extremely shaky in humans, but it's only a matter of time before it gets safer and more powerful.

There were also segments on solid-state lasers, lightning research, and metallic bone replacements. Anyway, it was a pretty cool show. It's probably well and good that I don't have cable at home, or I wouldn't get anything else done.

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