If the latest fight in Congress over embryonic stem cell research proves one thing, it's this: the little suckers just won't go away. The stem cells, that is.
Five years ago, President Bush first announced his controversial policy to limit federal funding for stem cell research only to existing stem lines, and ever since then, the micro-organisms have managed to stay in the headlines -- from California"s $3 billion legislative embrace of stem cell research, to Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's opposition to it, to Ron Reagan's impassioned speech on the subject at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It's the news story that keeps on giving.
So what's the next stop for stems? Commerce.
As any good business mogul knows, when ordinary Americans begin investing so much attention to an issue, their wallets are sure to follow. And while the stem-related din at water coolers across the country may already be in full voice, it's safe to assume that corporate marketers, entertainment executives and clever entrepreneurs have only just begun to explore a host of lucrative possibilities.
Let the games begin:
STEMAZON.COM: This quick-link annex to the popular online bookstore features shelf-loads of stem cell-related reading material, including: a Cell-Help section ("Chicken Soup for the Cell"); finance guides for strapped scientists (e.g., Suze Orman's "Buy Low, Cell High"); and the controversial children's book, "Heather Has Two Stem Cells," in which the tiny title character expresses her test tube anxiety through such charming Seussian verses as: "I cannot say if I'm alive / I cannot know if I will thrive / I did not start this mess, you know / I'm just a little embryo."
NASHVILLE: The first and best interpreters of human heartbreak, country music stars jump on the stem-cell haywagon, reducing the arcane science to simple, countrified laments. C&W chart-toppers include Kenny Chesney's jaunty "Lonesome Clem Without a Stem," Tim McGraw's sultry love ballad, "I'm Your Man, Body and Cell," and Tammy Wynette's inspiring anthem to patriarchal politics and womanhood, "Stand By Your Stem."
NICKELODEON: In an effort to enlighten children to the issues of the day, Nick. Jr. launches the new animated spinoff, "SpongeBob StemPants," starring a wacky sea anemone who conducts scientific research from his pineapple under the sea. Predictably, evangelicals start questioning the program's values. "Why does a sponge have a stem?" asks an outraged Rev. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. "And more important, why is it in his pants?" The show is quickly replaced with the Dobson-approved, "Dora the Home-Schooled Creationist."
MARTHA STEWART'S STEMWARE: A new brand of cut-crystal? Not quite. Sixteen months after being released from a cell of a different kind, the doyenne of domesticity trots out a line of at-home lab paraphernalia that permits rogue scientists to whip up embryos in the privacy of their own kitchens. Hand-painted and available in a variety of attractive designs (the "Test Tube Tulip," the all-wood "Petrified Petri"), these makeshift lab dishes double as charming centerpieces when range-top researchers take that much-needed day off. "For anyone who's ever worked with long-stem roses," announces Stewart, "these stems will be a piece of cake."
STEM CELL! THE MUSICAL: No, it's not a brilliantly brooding tuner by songsmith Stephen Sondheim, but rather, an old-fashioned, stamp-your-feet, Broadway extravaganza. Following the hilarious tale of a President embroiled in a thorny scientific debate, the score includes such showstoppers as "On the Stem Where You Live," "Cells are Ringing" and "Hello, Celly!" Stage veteran Nathan Lane draws rave reviews as the Commander-in-Chief, who responds to pestering media questions by tap-dancing around them.
STEMCELLULAR CALLING: Brought to you by AT&T, MCI and the NIH, this experimental cellular network promises lab-to-lab communications among scientists who enjoy talking on the phone while they tinker with their stems. Within hours of its launch, however, the service overloads, resulting in a system-wide crash. Investigators soon discover the reason for the network's failure: "an inadequate number of stem lines."