By Angela McQuillan
On Friday June 8, our artist-in-residence Laura Splan received a large shipment of fleece obtained from three special alpacas who live in Lancaster County. These three particular alpacas are used for antibody production, and their wool is shorn once per year in the summer. As an artist who works with fibers, Laura found the prospect of recieving this wool very exciting for use in her residency project.
Alpacas are not typically thought of as lab animals, but camelid species such as alpacas, llamas and camels, are unique among all mammals in that they can produce antibodies that are composed solely of two heavy chains, which make them increasingly useful for research and therapeutic applications.
Alpaca wool is known for being very soft (almost as soft as cashmere), and also hypo-allergenic because it does not contain lanolin. Receiving a shipment of alpaca wool is not an every day occurrence in a laboratory setting, so Laura and her labmates had some fun immersing themselves in the tactile experience! It was a great way to understand the physicality of these animals, who to most researchers are more of an abstract process. Next on the list of art supplies is the wool from 30 llamas (and we're not joking)! More updates coming soon.
No animals were harmed in this process.