'Spider goats' display angers Ottawa professor

An exhibit of two goats implanted with a spider gene has raised the ire of an anthropology professor in Ottawa, two years after the animals were first shown to the public.

Sugar and Spice an attraction at Canada Agriculture Museum

Two female spider goats will not be reproducing but they have that ability, the museum says. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

An Ottawa university professor is up in arms over goats implanted with a spider gene at a museum display.

The two female white goats, named Sugar and Spice, have been an attraction at the Canada Agriculture Museum for about two years. Both "spider goats," as they are called, have a spider's silk-spinning gene.

So-called spider goats have been on display in Ottawa for two years but this past weekend brought the first complaint, according to the museum. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Beatriz Oliver, a part-time anthropology professor at the University of Ottawa, said she is shocked the animals are on display.

She said the display itself upsets her because the animals are called natural on a plaque, which also includes notes such as:

  • These goats produce milk that contains spider silk.
  • The spider silk is extracted and spun into BioSteel, which is used in bulletproof vests and medical sutures.

"I think it's so fundamentally wrong," Oliver told the CBC's Ashley Burke.

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

Museum not breeding spider goats

The museum's curator said they are not advocating for any genetic engineering, but presenting the fact these goats exist.

Curator Franz Klingender says the museum is not trying to breed the animals, but rather educate the public the animals exist. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

The goats were originally created by Montreal-based company Nexia Biotechnologies, which went bankrupt. The museum said it purchased them in late 2009 and early 2010 to put them on display, but only for education purposes and not to produce the spider silk.

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

The museum also said it will never breed the animals. 

The advocacy group the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is still asking people to voice any concerns about the spider goats to the museum.