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Last-minute life-scientist gift

Reindeer DNA necklace brings ungulate genomics to the jewelry box.

By | December 20, 2002

Gift-givers can fit an entire reindeer — or at least its whole genome — in holiday stockings this year, thanks to a Hong Kong biotech firm offering reindeer DNA necklaces.

Hanging from a 40 cm silver chain, the reindeer DNA floats in purple fluid inside a glass vial capped with silver reindeer antlers. "The antlers are of course symbolic of reindeers, but in heraldic terms antlers also signify strength and fortitude and in dream interpretation antlers are meant to signify future happiness," explained DNA-Tech Ltd. marketing manager Billy Chan.

No reindeer are harmed to produce the jewelry, according to Chan. The DNA is extracted from the blood of four adult reindeer by veterinary staff at the Finnish Fisheries and Game Research Institute near the Arctic Circle as part of routine health checks. "We received about five liters of blood. Not from the same animal, of course. That wouldn't be too good for you, would it?" said DNA-Tech Ltd. project manager Richard Collins.

No humans should be harmed by the gifts either. The DNA is precipitated out with sodium acetate and isopropanol and preserved in 100 percent glycerol with purple coloring, both nontoxic solutions. "The purple color signifies royalty and luxury, whilst also symbolizing friendship, peace and forgiveness," Chan said. The solution is then hermetically sealed in the 1 ml, 2.5 cm vial, and "theoretically the DNA should last many, many years," Collins said.

"Everybody's phoned up and asked, 'Can we clone reindeer from it?'" Collins added. "Theoretically, yes. In reality, no."

Each necklace is a handmade limited edition (with only 2,000 available) and comes with a certificate of authenticity. The necklaces cost HK$480 (US$75) and can be ordered from the company's Web site.

DNA-Tech was started in 2000, as a subsidiary of Hong Kong DNA Chips Ltd., to raise public awareness of DNA and its applications, Collins said. The parent firm provides services such as prenatal screening, GM food testing and parentage testing. Pet DNA can also be preserved in pendant form, and on Valentine's Day this year, DNA-Tech began offering personal-DNA pendants, "to give to loved ones as a form of jewelry," Collins said. "And we decided to follow that up with a Christmas gift."

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