By Nick Thomas
I’m usually cautious around geneticists. They’re always cloning around, speaking in genetic codes, and stepping on mitosis.
But they do come up with some bright ideas. Back in 2003, Taiwanese researchers took DNA from luminescent jellyfish and inserted it into zebrafish and produced pets for the home aquarium that glowed eerily in the dark.
This was an incredibly useful discovery, especially for fish owners who get the urge to feed their fish at 2 a.m. during a power outage.
These glow-in-the-dark fish have been sold in the US now for 8 years and were the first genetically modified pet available to the public. However, they are not sold in California because the company producing the fish could not afford the expensive ecological review to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act for new biotech aquatic organisms. But elsewhere, they cost a few dollars each and certainly brighten up any fish tank.
Although they may appear to be a harmless novelty, the concept has always worried some people. What might happen if bio-engineered fish were released in the wild and spread their modified genes into the aquatic gene pool?
Zebrafish are native to India and Bangladesh and would not likely survive in many US waterways during the winter. And even if they did, it’s hard to imagine how the colorful genes could do more damage to the ecosystem than the tons of pollutants pumped in annually.
But what if other fish were genetically modified, and released?
For instance, suppose someone were to genetically modify piranha so that they could withstand cold water temperatures, and then released them up North. No-one would ever swim in the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan again.
The company producing Glowfish say the fish are sterile and therefore unable to breed in the wild. But that claim sounds awfully familiar. Didn’t these guys ever watch Jurassic Park?
The technology to alter an organism’s genes has been around a long time. Many varieties of plants (soybeans, rice, wheat) have long been genetically manipulated. But the transfer of desirable animal qualities of one species to another does raise some interesting possibilities.
How about creating an armadillo with the kangaroo jumping gene to avoid being hit by cars? Sheep could get a dose of the pink flamingo gene to produce bright pre-colored wool. Better yet, add a touch of snake DNA to get a sheep that can shed its own wool twice a year.
You can see where this is heading: the fusion of human and animal genes. Before long, women will want their wayward husbands to be spliced with the homing gene of a pigeon. Or worse still, wives will want to get a dose of the bat radar gene so they can track their hubbies’ every move.
As geneticists continue to tinker with nature’s building blocks, there’s one human/animal hybrid that I’d like to see them create.
As a pre-election condition, persons running for political office could be required to have their honesty gene linked to the legendary lemming jump-off-the-high-cliff-into-the-river gene. If the former gene were to break down, the latter would take over, thus enabling an electorate to immediately be rid of a corrupt politician.
Along these lines, legislative sessions would very quickly become more productive.
Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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