This series is a discussion of how we take responsibility for the birds and the beasts and the fields and the oceans and whatever Genesis left out (for example, the Bible doesn’t mention the atmosphere). It’s time for some discussion of the future of animals and how we’ll use them. Yes, that’s blunt. Humans use animals. This entire post is two lists: traditional human uses of animals and ways we are changing animals via biotechnology.
Throughout this series I’ve talked about conservation, brought up one of my favorite causes (saving the elephants), and worried about both plants and animals in a land use context. I believe in preservation. Captain Paul Watson is one of my heroes. So is Jane Goodall, and Sylvia Earle. But now I’m moving from the topics of preservation and conservation into the edges of creation.
This is going to take more than one post. So without further ado….
- Product testing
- Gladiator-style fighting
- Sport hunting
- Helping us hunt
- Carrying messages
Now that we have new tools available via decoded DNA, a bit of math, and a pipette, I’ve found many specific examples of animals we’ve changed. The historical list probably didn’t need any explanation, but I’ll add a short blurb and a link for everything on the GM list:
- Replacing a lost pet (Remember Missyplicity? Clone your beloved Fido and ease your suffering)
- Creating new kinds of pets (Glofish anyone? A hit in pet stores now)
- Uplift (ever read David Brin? Take an animal and sprinkle in human brain cells.)
- Growing organs that can be used in humans (really, for transplant into people)
- New foods (Salmon that grow faster than traditional fish, cows that produce human breast milk, more)
- Research (clones/testing for other GM processes/ more…)
- Insect/ Machine crosses (Once more, so far, actually for war. But maybe future pollinators)
- Restoration of extinct species (Jurassic Park? But really, this is serious science)
- Protecting animals from disease (prion-free cattle that can’t get mad-cow disease)
- Pollution testers (Fish that glow in the presence of pollutants. Bomb sniffing mice.)
- Greening up (Food animals that are easier on the ecosystem)
- Medicine (goats that produce human medicine in their milk)
I’m sure I’m still missing a lot of examples from this list. if you have something I missed from either list, please add it in comments.
There are generally barriers (physical and legal) between most of these GM uses and the rest of the world. But not all – the Glofish that you can easily buy at Petco are a GM product. Some of the experiments I’ve linked to above have already been cancelled, and the GM animals euthanized. Some are about human health, some about science, some about commerce. A few are (sort of) about the animals.
Humans are not going to stop experimenting. Not unless we wake up tomorrow and discover that some handy aliens have come and dropped a pill that changes basic human nature into all of our water supplies.
I don’t have time inside of Backing into Eden to explore all of things on either of these lists, but I will look at why we might want to use GM animals in the future and how we might create an ethical framework for doing so.
This time there’s no linking section. After all, I gave you links above! But I am going to recommend a book: Frankenstein’s Cat by Emily Anthes. I’m reading it. Grab it and read along with me.