Beyond Frankenstein: Costumes for the Science Savvy

Emily Anthes

Emily Anthes, Frankenstein's Cat

Frankenstein’s monster is so passé. Especially when you consider all the strange new creatures that scientists have breathed into being in the two centuries since Mary Shelley’s “wretched devil” took its first lumbering steps. This Halloween, retire your Frankenstein costume and dress up as one of these brave new beasts instead.

 

Glowing Cat

untitled.bmpIn 2008, scientists at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, in New Orleans, transferred a jellyfish gene into a cat embryo. The gene coded for a protein known as green fluorescent protein (GFP), a compound that gives off a bright green glow whenever it’s hit by blue or black light. As the kitten, dubbed Mr. Green Genes, grew up, his cells began to crank out GFP; under the right light, the orange tabby now turns neon green.

A classic cat costume plus a little glow-in-the-dark face paint can turn you into Mr. Green Genes on All Hallow’s Eve. (Bonus points if you can resist the urge to turn this costume into a sexy glow-in-the-dark cat.)

 

Cyborg Beetle

inventions_cyborg_beetleSince 2006, researchers at several different labs have been engineering remote-controlled cyborg insects. Michel Maharbiz, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, built his biobot by implanting wire electrodes in the brain and the wing muscles of a flower beetle. When Maharbiz wanted the beetle to start or stop flying—or to turn right or left in mid-air—all he had to do was send a radio signal to a package of electronics mounted onto the beetle’s back. Electrical impulses would race down the implanted wires and into the beetle’s body, and the insect would then move according to Maharbiz’s command. DARPA has expressed interest in putting these insects to work as cyborg spies; the bugs could be loaded up with sensors or cameras and steered through enemy territory.

On Halloween, you do the bugging by dressing up as a beetle and mounting recording equipment on your back.

 

Infrared-Detecting Rat

ratEarlier this year, scientists announced a remarkable feat: They had given six rats an entirely new sense. The team of researchers—led by Duke University neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis—had rewired the rodents’ brains so that they could detect infrared light, which is normally invisible to the animals (and to us). To give the rats the gift of infrared sight, the scientists implanted electrodes in their brains, in a region known to process touch sensations from the animals’ whiskers. Then they connected these electrodes to an infrared detector mounted on the rodents’ heads. Thereafter, whenever an infrared light blinked on, the head-mounted detector sent an electric signal into the rats’ brains, making the rodents feel as though their whiskers were being touched. As the rats moved closer to the light, the frequency of this electrical stimulation increased, and after several weeks, the rats learned to detect, locate, and respond to previously invisible wavelengths of light.

Celebrate this feat by donning a rodent costume and a pair of (infrared-sensitive) thermal imaging goggles.

 

Bloody Mammoth

mammothOk, technically scientists haven’t created a bloody mammoth, but they did unearth one. In May, researchers at Russia’s North-Eastern Federal University discovered a 10,000 year-old mammoth carcass that was so well preserved that it reportedly contained liquid blood. Scientists have been discussing the possibility of bringing the mammoth back from the dead using cloning, and advocates hope that some of the well-preserved specimens now being discovered in the Siberian tundra may yield the intact cells and DNA that cloning requires.

So far, the dream of resurrecting the prehistoric giants remains a long shot but in the meantime, you can bring the long-gone species to life with a mammoth costume and, if you’re feeling adventurous, a little fake blood.

 

Emily Anthes - author of Frankenstein’s Cat - is a journalist whose articles have appeared in Wired, DiscoverPsychology Today, Slate, Scientific AmericanThe Boston Globe, and other publications. She holds a master’s degree in science writing from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in the history of science and medicine from Yale. Find her on Twitter @EmilyAnthes.