Thursday, May 8, 2008

More Milk Matters

[Gene Research] The Trib is running a Washington Post story about the platypus genome. It's a rewarding read.

Platypuses are those nutty mammals with ducks' bills that lay eggs and suckle their young. But one thing I didn't know is that they're also venomous like reptiles. (The "fangs" are on the platypus' hind legs.) The more I learn about these bird-snake-beaver things, the weirder they get.

Here's a particularly instructive passage (with added emphasis):
Platypus milk appears to be a modified version of a moisturizing fluid that ancestral platypuses once used to keep their leathery, lizard-like eggs from drying out during incubation. It is secreted from "milk patches" on the mother's abdomen.

As with kangaroos, platypus milk becomes more nutritionally complex over a period of months while the young suckle and grow, the result of at least five different genes turning on in sequence.

"The dairy industry is actually very interested in this and want to get their hands on the controlling gene elements that turn these milk genes on and off," Graves said.
Why, dairy industry, why? Are you saying that, through the miracle of science, one of these days we might sit down to a nice, frothy glass of cold platypus milk? Will you tell us it helps build strong bills and leg-fangs? For the record, let me just say, "Eeugh!" right now.

And the platypus genome isn't wild 'n' crazy enough without getting some cow genes mixed up in there too? Somebody's got to put a stop to this.

Perhaps the dairy farmers themselves might not be too keen on the idea once they realize there are no nipples on a platypus—only some weird-ass structures called "milk patches." Try hooking up one of your vacuum pumps to a milk patch, Ole. (Brandon Burt)

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