April 13, 2008 | 52°F Overcast


Mix and Match

To get us thinking about creating new life forms, we tag along with a group of kids on a visit to the American Museum of Natural History exhibit on Mythic Creatures. Curator Laurel Kendall tells us that even figments of the human imagination deserve to be a part of natural history. But what do we mean when we say something is "natural?" Sometimes nature does things that might seem unnatural, at least at first glance. Karen Keegan and her doctor Lynne Uhl tell reporter Soren Wheeler a story of disputed motherhood that might throw your idea of natural for a loop. (Hint: Karen is more than one person, kind of.) Then we enter the world of bioengineering with scientist Lee Silver from Princeton University. Silver tells us about a strange creature created by scientists back in the 80s, called a "geep." And then he tells us about a very disturbing real-life incident that playwright Jeremy Kareken, in collaboration with Dr. Silver, turned into a play about the implications of combining humans and other animals.

American Museum of Natural History, Mythic Creatures Exhibit
An Article about Karen and another Chimera Mother
A National Geographic Article about Chimeras
Lee Silver’s Website
Buy a Pegasus Wing

Listener Comments Comment | Refresh | Back to Episode
Posted by: Scott McVicker
February 26, 2008 - 01:44PM
Half Moon Bay, California

Re: Karen Keegan. Two tests I would have liked to see - A comparison between Karen's two DNA samples with that of her parents, and the same test of her children relative to their grandparents.

Posted by: Soren Wheeler
March 06, 2008 - 10:34AM


The doctors did compare the son's DNA to Karen's mother and two brother, though unfortunately Karen's father had passed away by that time. And they did find that the sons were related to her larger family. To my knowledge, they never compared Karen's second set of DNA to the family, I believe beceause they felt the twin explanation was pretty clear and they didn't want to keep poking and prodding Karen.


Posted by: Alison
March 06, 2008 - 04:05PM

I'm transgendered. I wonder if anyone has explored the idea that perhaps transgendered people could be chimeras. Could I actually have the DNA of both a man and a woman in me? Has anyone heard of research into this?

Posted by: Jeremy Kareken
March 08, 2008 - 02:38PM
New York

TGAlison: It's not likely but certainly possible. Chimerism includes a number of specific intersexual conditions and a simple DNA test will check. I'm curious: what parts do you think are those of your never-born fraternal sister? Or brother?

TG is even less specific than "chimerism," because it's not a medical diagnosis, but a social rubric, and rather a broad one at that. There are all sorts of medical conditions that can encourage gender identity issues - adrenal hyperplasia, androgen sensitivity, hermaphoditism. And there are people who just like to play dress-up who call themselves TG.

Now hermaphroditism can be a symptom of chimerism, but you can be certain through DNA testing. One generally sees skin abnormalities in cases of chimerism. They follow what are called "Blaschko's Lines." And certainly other intersexual components occur, like testes in some women, ovaries in men, or ovotestes, and the like...

Posted by: James The Giant Peach
March 14, 2008 - 03:44PM
Park Slope

where can we see pictures of the Geep?

Posted by: Blake
March 23, 2008 - 12:35AM

I'd love to listen to this show, but I can't find the audio link anywhere, even though the show was a week ago. Could someone post it, or be so kind as to tell me how to find it? (Apologies in advance if it is obvious and I am somehow missing it.)

Posted by: Soren Wheeler
March 24, 2008 - 11:49AM


Unfortunately, there's a little time lag between the show going on the radio and being available on the website or through podcast. But it will be up in the next couple weeks and we'll post a blog when it's ready.

Sorry for the wait.

Posted by: pffft
April 10, 2008 - 01:31PM

Another great Radio Lab episode. Keep up the good work. Radio Lab is up there with This American Life as one of my top shows.

The Karen Keegan segment was especially good and quite moving.

Posted by: Snacky0
April 11, 2008 - 07:22PM

Great Show! I always look forward to the new episodes. I am a little confused about the link to the jewelry website.... Is that a mistake? Just curious - I wanted to see who was selling Pegasus wings.....


Snacky O

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