If It’s Not Neon, It Can’t Be On

Cyborg Bugs and Glow-in-the-dark Cats: How We’re Engineering Animals

Neon-themed parties are fun, but these critters are giving new meaning to the phrase: “If it’s not neon, it can’t be on.” This CNN article explores the new advances in technology and genetics that are changing the way we think about biology, especially relating to animals. The article gives an introduction and then continues into excerpts from an interview with Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts author Emily Anthes. She covers topics such as genetically engineered zebrafish (GloFish) that contain a fluorescent protein gene and cats like Mr. Green Genes that can glow under ultraviolet light. Although genetic alteration is the main focus, other biotech topics, such as Winter (the dolphin with a prosthetic tail) and RoboRoaches (roaches that can be controlled by remote control), come up as well.

Even though these innovations are neat, they bring up many ethical questions about science and animal welfare. Anthes tries to address some of the genetic engineering concerns, but it is apparent that there is no clear solution: “. . . scientists engineering rats and mice who suffer from various diseases [so] that they [can] learn about cures or treatments for human disease. That’s a pretty clear instance where animal welfare and human welfare are in direct opposition. . . It’s tricky, because it seems deeply unfair, and in some senses, it is. . . Studies have shown that the public is deeply conflicted about this. . . But I think most people are slightly more accepting when it comes to testing chemotherapy on animals, because the potential payoff for humans is so big. Of course, that’s not any consolation for the animal.” Anthes stresses that animal welfare, environmental effects, and human safety should all be seriously considered when thinking about genetic technology. Anthes also hits on philosophical concerns and her opinion for what the future holds: “I think it’s going to become more and more mainstream to come across humans or animals that have electronic parts wired into them.”

There is too much goodness for me to summarize in one post, so I highly recommend reading the actual article. I agree with Anthes on several points and believe that this new avenue of engineering is really exciting and interesting, but ethics and animal welfare parameters need to be clearly established. Just because something isn’t “natural” doesn’t mean we should completely dismiss the idea or consider its possibilities. I think safety and long-term effects should be extremely high on the priority list. Today, we are learning that genetically modified foods that where thought to be a cure-all for many agricultural problems are not as amazing as we once thought. There are constantly news articles about cutting-edge technology that is released to the world too soon because of pressures to be the best or have the newest idea. Many of these companies or people cut corners or overlook important information because pride gets in the way of what’s best for the world or people, and there can be disastrous consequences.  Hence, as long as these companies and researchers avoid the “I’d rather apologize than ask for permission” mindset, I think we are right to give credit where credit is due and support new innovations.

Here are youtube links to videos about some florescent felines:

Glow-in-the-dark Cats

Mr. Green Genes!

GloFish! Wiki Commons: www.glofish.com

GloFish! Wiki Commons: http://www.glofish.com


3 responses to “If It’s Not Neon, It Can’t Be On

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