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What's Up With The Bio Tech?

By Max Burbank
5/1/01

For three generations, my family has been breeding Italian Greyhounds with Shar-peis in an attempt to craft the canine equivalent of a flying squirrel. In this we have met with little success, having so far created only a dog with such a petite and delicate bone structure that it often becomes displaced in its own flesh, like an infant in an oversize pair of Dr. Denton's. It is prone to hip dysphasia, epileptic seizures, poor bowel control and sudden, unpredictable violence.

The above cautionary tale is something of an exaggeration. My immediate family has owned just four dogs since arriving in America, and the only relative involved in actual breeding is my allegedly simple cousin, Lloyd, whose activities are not so much husbandry as an abomination in the eyes of God and a crime in 49 states. Sorry, Tennessee.

The point, however, remains. ‘Picture swapping’ with ‘friends’ while ‘chatting’ on the ‘Internet’ is admittedly fun, but it leads inexorably to parts of you being recovered from a locker in a Mexican bus station. Wait, that's not the point I meant to make. See, the point is: nature is slow. When man tries to speed it up the best he can hope for is a Saint Bernard type experience. Cute, friendly, loyal, but it drools a lot. More often, it's the gypsy moth. About a hundred years ago, a Frenchy by the name of Trouvelot brought over a mass of Gypsy Moth eggs from Asia with the idea of breeding a silkworm hardy enough to survive in New England. The silk of the gypsy moth is totally useless, but they're hardy as all hell, and when they inevitably escaped they bred like Catholic rabbits and now periodically defoliate great swaths of forest. I recall a summer in the late seventies when the sound of their fecal pellets falling to the ground was like soft rain twenty four hours a day for over a week. Trouvelot moved from amateur ecologic catastrophe to the safer field of astronomy and I'm told that there is now a crater on the moon named after the meddling bastard. Perhaps we could name some geologic feature of Mars after the Monsanto Corporation in anticipation.

On a secret hermetically sealed, germ free laboratory farm somewhere in England, veterinarians in clean suits genetically infuse pigs with Human DNA to make their organs suitable for transplantation into people. (For details visit www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/organfarm/) Close observation will show that something similar is going on with the Teletubbies. In 1995 at the University of Massachusetts, a hairless mouse was caused to grown an ear shaped mass of human cartilage on its back. I don't think we need to get a moon crater lined up for the researchers just yet, as, if these mice escape they will not breed true. If you personally fear seething hordes of hairless earmice erupting from the subways, this is probably evidence of some chemical imbalance. The same goes for any night terrors inspired by the glow in the dark bunny with the iridescent jelly fish genes.

But what if tomorrow's scientist takes that glow in the dark bunny and grafts Stalin's brain on its back and then gives it the genes for opposable thumbs? Who'll be laughing then? What if William Shatner's sequenced DNA was spliced into Pygmy Elephant Shrew Fetuses, and someone gave the resulting offspring guns? Unlikely scenario? Yes, but do you think Froggy LeSilkworm ever imagined the sound of billions of Gypsy moths pooing while dreaming of cheaply made sheets for the gentleman of leisure? And if he did imagine it, was he wearing women's underwear and an excess of eyeliner at the time?

I don't mean to be an alarmist. I myself have six or seven baboon livers in the ice box at any given moment so my constant alcoholic frenzy won't be spoiled by fears of cirrhosis. If it's me on the waiting list for a heart transplant someday, you can bet the nurses will need earplugs to keep from going deaf. "A PIG HEART! A PIG HEART! GET ME A GENETICALLY ALTERED PIG HEART THIS MINUTE! I DON'T GIVE A CRAP IF A TRANSGENIC VIRUS DEVELOPED AS AN UNINTENDED BYPRODUCT OF THIS RESEARCH DECIMATES HALF THE EARTH, I WANT MY GOD DAMN PIG HEART!!" If it's me we're talking about, then yes, throw caution to the winds, Frankenstein, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. But if it's you with the bum ticker I'd like to respectfully request that you show a little perspective and die without complaint.

I guess what I'm driving at here, is that when it's my life on the line or my patent on the flying dog, I'm pretty sure it's okay. Unfortunately, lots of governments and corporations out there feel the same way, and they have money and I don't, and if you're taking the time to read this, my guess is you have less than jack diddly crap yourself. So it won't be me and you with a jug of genetically enhanced Orangutan kidneys in the fridge in any case, any more than the point of extra hardy winter wheat is filling bellies in Kazakstan. The best you and I can hope for is that somewhere out there, there's some egg headed freak on a global conglomerate gravy train engineering a gene that will make us smile when we get bent over. ###

 

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