Life and death

Beginning with the beating heart of a chicken embryo and ending with beetles living off a dead turtle, the new exhibit at the Utah Museum of Natural History focus on the life cycle.

“Traits of Life,” open until April 23, is comprised of three areas that all living things share: reproduction, genetics and interconnectivity.

The exhibit comes from the Exploratorium, a science museum based in San Francisco, and nearly all of the displays are interactive.

“When we get something from the Exploratorium, we feel really good about it, and we haven’t had a life science exhibit in a while,” said Becky Menlove, director of exhibits for the museum.

The interactive displays include touch-screen tests to see how unique a person’s genetic traits are and high-powered microscopes that look at various types of animal and plant cells and one that zooms in on bioluminescent nematodes-genetically altered worms that aren’t much bigger than a millimeter.

The exhibit also features four developing chicken embryos, Dermestid beetles, fruit flies and termites.

“We’ve had to turn our workspace downstairs into a huge lab in order to keep all of the exhibits stocked with these species,” Menlove said.

Other exhibits include videos showing an egg and sperm joining, one that shows cells, humans and animals, moving in similar patterns. There are also two large cases filled with multicolored mold and a case that measures the oxygen output of plants.

Visitors can also try to guess which sperm and egg cells belong to humans.

“I was surprised. I guessed the wrong egg for humans, and I’ve had quite a bit of biology,” Menlove said.

The museum directors also chose to display the exhibit because the new Utah Museum of Natural History building, which is scheduled to open near Research Park in 2008, will feature an entire gallery focusing on life science.

In conjunction with the exhibit, a lecture series will also explore various life-science issues.

The Genetic Science Learning Center and the museum will also open a joint exhibit called, “Stem Cells and You” to inform the public about the hotly debated political topic. The exhibit will open Feb. 25, with Sen. Orrin Hatch delivering a speech at 2 p.m. in the museum.

ARUP, who is helping to sponsor the exhibit, will hold blood drives at the museum as well.

While organizers hope to have high attendance of elementary-school children, Menlove says students, who can attend the museum for free with a valid ID, should check it out.

“This information is relevant to everyone,” she said.

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