Transgenic, hair-growing plants

image New Scientist has published an interview with Laura Cinti, an artist who claims that she has collaborated with an unnamed genetics lab in order to create a transgenic cactus that grows human hair. Christopher Chauvin brought this to my attention, and, like him, I'm a bit skeptical of Cinti's claims. First of all, it seems like quite a scientific achievement to get a cactus to grow human hair. Second, it seems suspicious that the lab that did the work can't be named. Third, it doesn't appear that any independent scientists have actually examined these hirsute cactuses to see if all is as she claims it is. Cinti has a website, the Cactus Project, where she elaborates on this artistic project. With a quick google search, I also discovered a similar project: the Emotiplant. This is a plant that has the ability to display emotions, thanks to genetically implanted human genes for the expression of emotions. Now the emotiplant is definitely not real (it's a student art project from San Francisco State University), but its creator states that the emotion genes were implanted by the same process that Laura Cinti used with the cactuses.


Posted on Thu Mar 04, 2004


I found your article while reading more on the cactus project and was quite surprised to see your argument, which for me is based around pure disbelief. Well perhaps it doesn't surprise me as the nature of the site is to put most things into disbelief. In your argument you don't seem to have actually contacted the artist - but rather done a quick Google search which seems to me to be what you are drawing your conclusions on, again this does perhaps not surprise me. I have a problem with several of your statements when reading up on the project which I must say intrigued me 😉. The comparison to the emoti-plant seems to me pathetic as the basis of this project draws its line on assumptions that there are such genes - an idea that is already questionable and furthermore it seems to just be imitating another technique. Perhaps the one used in the cactus project - I must say I am not sure. Actually, regardless that this project has little bearing on the other I would dare to argue that the emoti-plant project is not a hoax - for can art ever be categorized as hoaxes - surely intentions would be different, it is more an idea perhaps - I think a nice idea. I guess you cold say I fundamentally disagree with you on this stand and find the argumentation in any direction lacking insight and research. I think that transgenic art such as the cactus project would be more harmed by this type of utterances than anything else, unless you have spoken to the artist
Posted by Lars Olsen  on  Tue Mar 09, 2004  at  06:22 PM
Human hair is composed of cells. Each cell is comprised of 23 pairs of genes. To have a hair growing catcus the cactus must be able to produce these cells with 23 pairs of genes being that the cactus does not have 23 pairs of genes it is impossible for it to grow human hair.
Posted by J  on  Wed Mar 10, 2004  at  02:05 PM
J, do you mean chromosomes, instead of genes?

What makes me skeptical is that surely there's more than one gene responsible for the creation of hair, so it wouldn't be like simply splicing one gene into the cactus's genome. You would have to completely reengineer the cactus.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Wed Mar 10, 2004  at  02:44 PM
Yeah Yeah, same difference... it's been 3 years since biology
Posted by J  on  Fri Mar 12, 2004  at  01:38 PM
Seeing how I work with cactus daily - by looking at the low rez images - it would be very easy to fake the images - Simply plucky the spines and inserting human hair would be time comsuming but doable.
Posted by Malinee  on  Thu Sep 02, 2004  at  12:02 AM
Has there been any news if this is for real or a fake?
Posted by Sabrina P  on  Thu Nov 25, 2004  at  04:36 AM
There is a lot of demonstrably authentic technical background to the project, described at There is every reason to think that "Agrobacterium-mediated transformation" (google it) can really introduce a human keratin gene into the cactus nucleus. It's also possible that these "hairs" only superficially resemble human hair - their microscopic structure may be quite different.
Posted by mitch p.  on  Fri Dec 24, 2004  at  04:56 AM
Sorry, but no.

The idea that you could just bung the gene for keratin into a cactus (regardless of whether you are using A. tumifaciens or colloidal gold or a gene gun or what-have-you (and I speak as someone who has actually done this kind of work)) and have it produce hair, or even anything hair-like, is patently absurd. There is a very sophisticated machinery involved, not only in producing hair, but even in making multimers of keratin from the monomeric gene product. The genes (yes, there are multiple ones) for keratin do not encode the long, fibrous product that is found in the middle of hairs. They produce little piddly microscopic monomers -- you need complex biological machinery to assemble them into anything remotely resembling a fibre, and cacti just don't have it.
Posted by Alex K.  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  07:53 PM
I have recently researched the cactus project and feel that what cinti has done is indeed possible, i have been studying genetic modification and transgenic genes for the past 7 years and now realise how it can be done. Alot of people say it is impossible and pathetic but if you have the intelligence and knowledge it can be done.
Posted by Nadia Colburg  on  Mon Jul 25, 2005  at  09:03 AM
It doesn't matter if it's real or not, what does it evoke in you? Are you comfortable with the potential, with the idea, with the image. Are comfortable with the combination, are you at ease with genetic modification? These are questions worth debating, not whether Cinti's pulling a hoax or not. It is surprising that this debate is so narrow in context!
Posted by lordalmighty  on  Tue Nov 08, 2005  at  09:34 AM
But it does matter if it's real or not. People's reaction will vary depending on whether or not its real. (Just as people's reaction to onscreen violence varies greatly depending on whether they think the violence is real or fake). It's useless to ask people what it evokes in them without first letting them know if it's real or fake (or leading them to believe it's either real or fake).
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Nov 08, 2005  at  01:56 PM

does anyone know why the webpage of the Cactus Project is note there anymore? I visited it about a month ago, but now I cannot... And, has it been clarified whether the cactus does really grow human hair or not?

Posted by M  on  Tue Nov 21, 2006  at  06:02 AM
This website helped but not a bunch sorry but it didnt! bye
Posted by kendall  on  Sun Dec 17, 2006  at  07:25 PM
Cinti has a website,

Er, not anymore. You may want to axe that link. Definitely not safe for work, or kids, etc...
Posted by Jenn  on  Sun Dec 28, 2008  at  06:38 PM
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