Miraculous Buffaloes, Non-Mad Cows and Sex in Space

Filed as Features on January 6, 2007 11:04 am

This report from the wonderful world of science blogs begins with some news of the strange from Jason Hoch, IT wizard for LiveScience blogs. Back in September he wrote The Incredibly True Story of the ‘Miraculous’ Heider White Buffaloes born on a family farm in his home town of Janesville, Wisconsin. These aren’t albinos, which wouldn’t have launched the massive pilgrimage of Native Americans and curiosity seekers to the farm. Many native tribes believe the white buffalo is of great spiritual significance, so when the original white buffalo ‘Miracle’ arrived in 1994 the Heiders turned part of their cornfield into a parking lot for the influx.

Jason reports that Native American prophesy states that the ‘true’ white buffalo is somewhat of a changeling. Where an albino would be white from birth to death, the spiritually significant white buffalo starts out white, then turns black, then red, and ends up yellow. Miracle accomplished all of this color changing, right on cue.

A second white buffalo was born on the farm in 1997, but died a few days later, and Miracle herself died in 2004. Then, incredibly, a third white buffalo was born on the Heider farm this past September! She is ‘Miracle’s Second Chance’ and the pilgrimages were all set to start again.

However, as Jason reported in Lighning Does Strike Twice: The Continuing Story of the Heider White Buffalo something even weirder has happened. Miracle’s Second Chance got struck by lightning!

Hmmm… One might begin to wonder if perhaps the Great Spirit has determined that one Miracle per human generation is enough, and that there just isn’t room for more than that. So the Heiders will be able to plant corn again this season where the parking lot used to be, so long as yet another white buffalo doesn’t show up to test the Great Spirit’s sense of humor (or the Heider’s tolerance for late night drum jams).

In the meantime, I’m definitely going to be keeping track of buffalo calving in rural Wisconsin, and just might start an internet betting pool on the appearance of yet another changeling at the Heider farm. Any takers?

While we’re talking about livestock down on the farm, Mount Sinai medical student Jake Young tells us in his blog Pure Pedantry about an interesting breakthrough in creative cattle breeding. Since the FDA ruled in late December that food from cloned animals is safe to eat, Jake notes that cows can now be cloned without the genes that code for prion proteins involved in Mad Cow disease.

Prion-free cows are viable, develop normally and Jake Young informs us that researchers at the USDA have actually cloned these cattle, and see potential to prevent transmission of the very nasty, 100% fatal human version of Mad Cow disease by simply replacing the herds with genetically engineered clones.

After decades of corporate control of genetic engineering technology geared entirely toward profits for the agriculture and pharmaceutical industries, it’s nice to see an application finally come along that is aimed directly at public health and safety. This is a fast-moving front in the sci/tech policy game, so look for many more discussions among science bloggers as new developments and applications are presented.

Enough of the spiritual significance and creative husbandry of bovines. Let’s talk about human reproductive possibilities in space! Leonard David explores Sex in Space: Getting a Grip on Gravity for us from the perspective of the… um… mechanical issues we’ve all wondered about. He quotes NASA physician James Logan describing the logistics as “a wild fling” unless the adventurers care to choreograph things a bit. And even then a child born in the micro-g atmosphere of a colonization ship, wouldn’t develop the proper skeletal strength to tolerate real gravity, or the neural brain connections to move well in a gravitational field. Thus, he says, we won’t be sending colonists out for extended travels to other planets until we figure out how to simulate gravity on our spaceships.

Still, I don’t think that little issue would stop space tourists or temporary residents on space stations from giving it the good ol’ college try. Why, the value of the first proper report on the necessary choreography is bound to be a hot paper in Science Magazine, and keep science bloggers busy discussing prurient interests as if they were detached academics for months or years!

All this isn’t so sci-fi either. Space.com writer Tariq Malik tells us that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Reveals Rocket Launch Details has completed a successful test of its Shepard program reusable launch vehicle at Blue Origin’s west Texas spaceport. They’re hiring engineers right now, and planning to start commercial operations in 2010. So start saving those pennies right now, kiddies! Even us regular folks may yet get the chance to view the earthrise from space, maybe do some research into those… um… mechanical issues.

(image from Miracle’s Website)

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  1. By Micah Sparacio posted on January 6, 2007 at 1:09 pm
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    Aileen, I love your sense of humor!

    I wish I could get me one of them miraculous buffaloes! But only if mine can change color too;-)