Paul Malone : Genetic Chicks
'Genetic Chicks' APT Open Studios exhibition 'DeLineation'. (Composite photo of installation above). Installation with toy chicks and texts.

In this departure I address the use of chick material in genetic experimentation. The full title is 'Watch out for Genetic Chicks' and is a humorous commentary on the vulnerability of this kind of conceit to get out of hand. Either by the willful behavior of the subjects to escape and disport themselves around the laboratory or else the unforeseen consequences of the experiments themselves in the barely understood conceptual environment of the life sciences.

The installation consists of a perspex tube with confined novelty Easter chicks awaiting their fate. Scattered around the walls - and adventuring into the bar area and toilets are escapees of the same nature. Framed on the main wall are a slide scan drawing of indeterminate morphology and a quote from 'The Mountains of Madness' by H.P. Lovecraft. This quote described the diabolical consequences of genetic engineering (Shoggoths)by archaic alien races that formerly inhabited the Earth and which came to determine their own fate.

Also presented are texts from the newspaper about attempts to synthesize a Tyrannosaurus Rex from chick embryos and a text about the work of the chemist Kervran on nucleo-synthesis within chickens. All texts are included below.


Framed Text :

It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train - a shapeless congerie of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.

H. P. Lovecraft, At The Mountains of Madness


Displayed Text 01 :

Calcium anomalies in chicken eggshells

Kervran initiated his fascination for science with the apparent enigma of eggshell formation. As a youth Kervran had read a reference to Louis Nicolas Vauquelin's observations on the formation of eggshell in Gustave Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pécuchet". Kervran later succeeded in finding Vauquelin's original text on the apparent anomalous increase in calcium in a chicken whose diet is limited to potassium-rich oats. How did it continue to produce eggs with calcareous shells on a calcium poor diet on a soil entirely lacking in limestone?

Contemporary biochemist believed that chickens fed on the calcium reserve of their skeletons to produce eggs. Kervran did not accept this since chickens deprived of calcium laid soft-shelled egg until they ingested the potassium-rich oats, at which point they laid calcareous hard-shelled eggs. Kervran did not consider how the potassium could contribute to other chemical based biological pathways that lead to shell hardening.

In response to Kervran ideas Nuclear scientists stated if the chickens were to turn potassium into calcium at the rate of several grams a day, the released nuclear fusion energy of the order of 8 MeV would have turned them into atom bombs. Kervran rationalized this discrepancy by believing that the transformation of potassium into calcium (transmutation) happened at low energy.

This became Kervran's thesis on which he staked his career. He developed a different model of low-energy transmutation that he called "frittage". The scientists who collaborated with Kervran on many of his specialized experiments gradually referred to the thesis of transmutation at low energy as the "Kervran effect".

(Wiki: Corentin Louis Kervran)


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Displayed Text 02 :

Watch out for genetic chicks

Once the ancient genome had been recreated in the lab, new embryology techniques could be used to insert the DNA sequences into an egg. The embryo would then develop into whatever the DNA had been coded for - in this case, the first dinosaur to be born in 65 million years. "If the large investment in genetics and development research continues, we could resurrect a dinosaur within 50 years," says Prof Raff.

But a creature that was nothing more than a scaly chicken would get laughed out of Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs need toothsome jaws to complement their slashing claws. Fortunately, it seems that chickens still retain much of the information necessary to build a set of T. Rex dentures. Researchers at the University of Southern California have managed to grow that proverbial rarity, hen's teeth. They added fibroblast growth factor to the beaks of embryo chicks, which subsequently grew small tooth buds, thus wiping out more than 60 million years of evolution.

Scientists believe comparative genomics may help to recreate the genes that allow an embryo to produce this growth factor itself. Comparative genomics has already been used to reconstruct a single prehistoric gene. This gene existed inside a type of yeast that lived alongside T. Rex 70 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.

(Daily Telegraph 2nd August 2001)


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