By Barry Foy
When it comes to Christmas cheer, St. Nick has nothing on the big biotech and pharmaceutical firms this year, with the release of an unprecedented number of holiday-related products expected over the next few weeks. Given the sector's legendary lack of sentimentality, this nod toward tradition has industry observers scratching their heads.
Some of the new items promise to be more popular with consumers than others. Analysts don't expect sales of PseudoPharm's genetically engineered pear tree, for example, whose fruit emits a pheromonal scent nearly irresistible to partridges, to match those of the novel strain of mistletoe developed by Zurich-based Euro-BeelzeBio, which perfumes the surrounding air with Impalis®, the company's popular erectile dysfunction remedy.
The common domestic turkey has been the focus of much of this Yule-based R&D. Two inventions in particular are at the epicenter of the excitement: England's Entropis Ltd. credits extensive research among the London poor with laying the groundwork for TimsTom®, a turkey whose pharmaceutically enhanced flesh helps combat lameness in young boys; and, thanks to an innovative set of enzymatic modifications, Atlanta-based Necro/gen's Stodge-Ready® bird will be able to process a specialized diet of bread, onions, celery, and sage and store it internally, making this the first self-stuffing Christmas turkey. A Thanksgiving version is slated for late 2009.
(Necro/gen researchers are currently at work on a "Taste-Terminator®" turkey gene, designed to render the cooked bird entirely flavorless immediately upon cooling, making it useless for leftovers.)
Purgator-Moonbatt Gesellschaft, headquartered in Berlin, takes aim at the British market with Pyrovitia®, a grape that synthesizes kerosene as it dries, resulting in an extremely flammable raisin. P-M's spokesperson says Pyrovitia® will eliminate the need for soaking the traditional Christmas pudding in brandy before flambéeing it. The commercial implications are potentially huge. And from Danish startup Eugenentech comes a lab-crafted organism named Anthravore®, described in the prospectus as "a powerful bacterium capable of rapidly digesting any size lump of coal found in a shoe."
For the most audacious product release this holiday season, though, look to industry titan Monsanto (whose corporate slogan recently changed from "Imagine" to "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"). Leaked documents suggest that research conducted at a secret location in Lapland has produced a method for splicing the genes of a Canada goose into the body of a reindeer.
The project's impact could be far-reaching. Not only would the new animal be able to fly, towing heavy loads through the air at high speed, but its avian component would render it acceptable to people who normally shun red meat. And if, as rumor has it, Monsanto researchers have also succeeded at engineering bioluminescence into the reindeer's nose, then the company's stockholders will have ample reason to don their gay apparel.
Occasional Ethicurean contributor Barry Foy is the author of "The Devil's Food Dictionary: A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies," available from Frogchart Press.
Pear tree illustration: iStockphoto