Pittsburgh is a hub of unusual museums, and The Center for PostNatural History in Bloomfield / Garfield is no exception.
For those who are not familiar with the term, PostNatural describes living organisms that have been modified by man through everything from selective breeding all the way to genetic engineering by accredited scientists, mad scientists, and everything in between.
As an engineer this museum sounded perfect to me, and I was incredibly excited about visiting during their limited Sunday opening hours to check out the exhibits.
You Will Learn Something Here
If there is one thing about the PostNatural world, it is that everyone knows a little bit about it, but probably not a whole lot of the topic at large- meaning you will be learning quite a bit when visiting this lesser-known museum.
You probably know about hybrid flowers, where two or more species are combined to bring out specific traits in the next generations like shape, color profile, and more. Or perhaps about how fruits and vegetables have been altered to express specific traits over time such as natural resistance to pesticides, diseases, etc. Maybe you also know a bit about how scientists breed laboratory rats to express specific genes that coincide with diseases and conditions to find medical cures that will help save lives.
These are all PostNatural scenarios, and the previous examples are just the starting point of what the museum covers when talking about this unusual topic.
PostNatural History is Very, Very Weird
Entering the Center for PostNatural History is a lot like going down the rabbit hole. It is an odd place and, quite frankly, not one I'm entirely sure I'd want to take small children to.
My reason for this is evident from the moment you step in the door where a stuffed, transgenic goat is on full display.
The goat looks no different from regular goats, but is one of the most extreme examples of PostNatural modifications that the museum has. You see, the goat has been modified to express a gene that was found in silk producing spiders. By activating this gene within the goat, it is able to produce the same silk within its milk, and silk-laden milk makes for easier harvesting and processing than that from a spider (apparently harvesting silk from a spider farm is not efficient nor very cost effective- but goat's milk does the job just fine).
Not all of the displays at the museum are this extreme, but it does give you an idea on what oddities you can find while here. So while you may end up checking out an exhibit on how scientists are trying to bring back a chestnut tree that died out in North America after globalization (due to a fungus that came over from Europe), or modified corn made by Monsanto (and their 12′ tall contract given to farmers that comes with said corn), the very next exhibit shows an alcoholic rat and strands of the silk produced from that previously mentioned goat.
These are just a few of the oddities that are on display, and by the time you leave you'll have a pretty good grasp on the wide range of things man has done in the PostNatural world- good, bad, ugly, and just plain unsettling.
I Wish the Museum Was Bigger
When it comes down to it, I have one complaint with the Center for PostNatural History- it is small. Think two rooms small; it is roughly on par with the size of Randyland.
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I say this not as a complaint , but rather because I left wanting to see more exhibits and find other examples of unique tests man has done in the PostNatural world. The museum does a great job at bringing up the topic and making you think, but its small size limits the amount of material that can be put out on display at any given time and does leave a bit to be desired overall.
Perhaps with a little push, and an increased interest from the community as a whole, this museum will be able to expand and grow into the potential it most certainly has.
Luckily for you, the Center for PostNatural History is completely free to visit, and if you find yourself in Bloomfield on a Sunday afternoon with about 20 minutes to spare, you really have no excuse to miss it.
The Center for PostNatural History is located at 4913 Penn Avenue and is typically open on Sundays from 12-4 and on First Fridays from 6-8 (please confirm prior to visiting). Tours during outside standard hours can be scheduled with advanced notice.