Museum’s spider goats, genetically engineered in Montreal, ‘shock’ professor

Two female spider goats. (CBC Photo) While they sound like something cooked up at a Marvel Comics round-table meeting, Ottawa's unusual spider goats are a very real, very popular attraction at the Canada Agricultural Museum. Sugar and Spice, two white female goats genetically engineered with a spider's silk-spinning gene, have been on display at the museum for the past two years.

As the CBC reports, the plaque outside their pen states that the goats produce milk containing spider's silk, which is then extracted and spun into BioSteel — a material used in the manufacture of bulletproof vests and medical sutures. The pair was purchased by the museum in 2009 after Montreal-based Nexia Biotechnologies — the company that engineered the goats — went bankrupt.

Museum curator Frank Klingender told the CBC the goats are strictly there for educational uses and do not produce the spider silk milk for commercial purposes.

"What we're doing is presenting a piece of information and the visitor can make up his or her own mind about it," he said.

But one visitor who has made up her mind pretty strongly is part-time University of Ottawa anthropology professor Beatriz Oliver, who told the media outlet she was "shocked" by their presence and recently voiced her concern that the animals were being introduced as "natural".

"Just to present it as something that's okay, that's normal ... I think that's not accurate. I think there should be both sides of the story on those panels," Oliver said.

In response, a museum spokesperson said the goats were not there to promote genetic engineering but rather to introduce the fact that they exist to the public.

Though the museum added it will never breed the animals, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network advocacy network has picked up the cause and is asking the public to voice any ethical concerns they may have to the museum brass.