On Fluorescent Fish, Pet Prosthetics, Roach Cyborgs, and the Ethics of Engineered Animals

Program notes, here.  It’s the third Wednesday of the month, which means I’ll be talking to a guest on the Virtually Speaking Science Strand at Blog Talk Radio and in Second Life.

This month my interlocutor will be a first for me:  0ne of my former MIT Science Writing graduate students, Emily Anthes.  Emily is (a) great — a fine writer, a ferocious reporter, and someone with a sharp-elbowed, quirky view of the world.

She’s just out with a new book, Frankenstein’s Cat, on what’s happening now — and what the implications may be — in a range of ways we’ve begun to modify our pets and other animals.  The book treats of genetically modified fish that glow in the dark; dairy animals manipulated to produce therapeutically valuable proteins in their milk, the concept of editing the genomes of useful (and/or decorative) animals, cloning, brain hacking (that’s the roaches) and more.

Emily is an engaged reporter on all this; she has strong points of view.  Broadly, she favors the side of intervention; in part, as she notes, because it’s hardly as if the history of selective breeding leaves us exactly virginal in the matter of using our fellow creatures as means, rather than ends in themselves.

Joannes_Fijt_-_Spaniels_Stalking_Rabbits_in_the_Dunes_-_WGA08353

The question isn’t whether we should manipulate animals, but how, and with what ethical lens — and that’s what we’ll talk about.

We’ll do so both as a live and listen-later audio cast, and in front of a virtually (and virtuously, I hope) live audience in Second Life, tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 4 p.m on that far coast I used to call home.

Should be fun. Emily’s the real deal.  Listen in; buy her book; make an old teacher happy.

Image: Jan Fyt, Spaniels Stalking Rabbits in the Dunes, 1658

 

 

 

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51 replies
  1. 1
    Raven says:

    I was just talking with a friend about “The Life of Pi” and how much the fish, especially the dorado, that were shown we so real. I assume all the animals were computer generated but they seemed to have it right.

  2. 2
    RoonieRoo says:

    My sister is a vet and I hear some stories. All I have to add is Neuticles!

  3. 3
    Linnaeus says:

    In related news, the FDA just determined that there would be no significant impact from the approval of genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon.

  4. 4
    Johnny Coelacanth says:

    I happened to hear Amy interviewed on NPR last week. She took pains to point out that her subtitle was “Cuddling up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts” and that “Frankenstein’s Cat” was supposed to be a more friendly image than Frankenstein’s monster. It was a good interview.

  5. 5
    Tom Levenson says:

    @RoonieRoo: @Linnaeus:

    Both issues Emily talks about in the book. She doesn’t plan to acquire neuticles for her dog, btw.

  6. 6
    srv says:

    Imagine if spiders flew AND glowed in the dark.

    That would be so awesome.

  7. 7
    Persia says:

    @Johnny Coelacanth: I did too, and the book sounded great.

  8. 8
    Linnaeus says:

    I’ll have to check this out; it’s an issue that I try to follow as closely as I can and I think a lot of the concerned parties aren’t doing a very good job of listening to each other. It’s frustrating.

  9. 9
    LittlePig says:

    Tom, I don’t doubt she is a fine writer, but I couldn’t listen to her Fresh-Air interview because she has the annoying “Valley” tic of saying every other sentence like a question (with rising pitch and stress at the end of the sentence, interrogative or not).

    And I wanted to listen, partly because of the subject, and partly because I wanted to know if she had the Paul Terry Mighty Mouse cartoon of the same name partly in mind for the title. I’ll have to reconsider the book, which I assumed to be not so hot based on her presentation

  10. 10
    RoonieRoo says:

    @Tom Levenson: I will definitely give a listen this evening.

  11. 11
    Tom Levenson says:

    @LittlePig: Hell, she’s from NY! I’ll see if I can interrupt her often enough to throw her off her rhythm ;)

    Seriously though, when you’re dealing with a writer, check out the written word (hint, hint — and no I don’t get a cut).

  12. 12
    Johnny Coelacanth says:

    @LittlePig: You seem to have a problem with upspeak? I’m not sure it’s just a Valley thing? I know people from West Virginia and they do that? Oh my God, it’s sooo annoying?

  13. 13
    Linnaeus says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    I just found Emily’s article in which she favors approval of the AquAdvantage salmon. It’s a good argument, though I take issue with a few of the points she makes.

  14. 14
    Mnemosyne says:

    @RoonieRoo:

    I’ve heard some speculation by vets that inserting something like that for male cats after neutering them could prevent the UTIs and urinary tract blockages that are so common in neutered male cats, but I don’t think any actual studies have been done.

  15. 15
    Scamp Dog says:

    Those dogs aren’t stalking the rabbits, they’re lollygagging. The chest-on-ground, hips rolled over is the tell.

    Semi-kidding, but I’ve seen my dog looking hungrily at rabbits and pidgeons, and the dog in the painting is just too relaxed.

  16. 16
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Johnny Coelacanth: Would you say the written on-line version of upspeak is to end a sentence with a question mark, even if the sentence is NOT a question being asked?

    I’m finding it annoying when people use question marks to end declarative sentences. Other peeves are ignorance of the differences and meanings of there, their, they’re, as well as to, too, two, etc.

    ETA: I am an old and I remember a lot of stuff I learned in primary school.

  17. 17
    Amir Khalid says:

    @RoonieRoo:
    I saw the word “Neuticles”, and God help me, but for some reason I thought of Lance Armstrong.

  18. 18
    grape_crush says:

    >…on what’s happening now — and what the implications may be — in a range of ways we’ve begun to modify our pets and other animals.

    Not to mention plants.

  19. 19
    RoonieRoo says:

    @Mnemosyne: I’m seeing my sister this weekend. I’ll have to ask her if that is something she has heard.

  20. 20
    grape_crush says:

    >The question isn’t whether we should manipulate animals, but how, and with what ethical lens…

    Should also mention what’s happened with our genetically-manipulated seedstock as well.

    The resulting loss of diversity from Monsanto’s dominance may restrict our ability to adapt plant stocks to an increasingly volatile climate. Many of the seed breeders and retailers Monsanto purchased were regional experts, familiar with the soil and adept at breeding crops suited to the vagaries of local pests and climate. That sprawling network of local knowledge and experimentation has been severely thinned.

  21. 21
    RoonieRoo says:

    @Amir Khalid: That is hysterical.

  22. 22
    The Moar You Know says:

    All I want to know is this: does science have anything on the horizon that can stop the large dogs I’m in the habit of owning from delivering paint-peeling farts of doom as I’m trying (and usually failing, these days) to drift off to sleep?

  23. 23
    Amir Khalid says:

    @The Moar You Know:
    Butt plugs?

  24. 24
    raven says:

    english teachers go home

  25. 25
    👽 Martin says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    All I want to know is this: does science have anything on the horizon that can stop the large dogs I’m in the habit of owning from delivering paint-peeling farts of doom as I’m trying (and usually failing, these days) to drift off to sleep?

    Door locks. Our corgi is resigned to the first floor. In part for the reason you describe. In part so the pocket pets have an unmolested place to live. In part because he looks like a fucking retard trying to go up and down the stairs on 2″ legs, and usually falls down the bottom half.

  26. 26
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    I want sharks with frickin’ lasers in their heads.

  27. 27
    The Moar You Know says:

    @Amir Khalid: preferably something that will not traumatize/kill my dog, thanks.

  28. 28
    👽 Martin says:

    @PurpleGirl: I do two?

  29. 29
    pete says:

    @Linnaeus: On the GM salmon, it would be good if more people read the report. My (hostile) summary is here. One of the things that most bothered me is that, to quote Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union, “FDA has allowed this fish to move forward based on tests of allergenicity of only six engineered fish, tests that actually did show an increase in allergy-causing potential.” I checked. He’s right. That’s just not good science.

  30. 30
    jl says:

    Manimals. Tunch. I rest my case.
    SATSQ, you are welcome.
    Next question?

  31. 31
    Roger Moore says:

    @Mnemosyne:
    I think the biggest benefit of neutricles is that they’ll help to convince squeamish men that it’s OK to get their male pets neutered. I guess there are some guys who are too sympathetic to their male pets and don’t recognize all the negative consequences of leaving them unfixed. If giving the pets prosthetic balls helps their humans to get over it, then I’m all in favor of prosthetics.

  32. 32
    Yutsano says:

    I have to agree: puppehs in painting are being lazy not stalking.

    Atlantic salmon has been farmed for years now because the wild stocks are so horrifically depleted. Any messing with an already fragile gene pool would be horrific.

  33. 33
    MaryRC says:

    a range of ways we’ve begun to modify our pets and other animals

    “Begun”? Haven’t we been modifying our pets and other animals for centuries? Why is this new?

  34. 34
    Linnaeus says:

    @pete:

    Thanks for the link.

  35. 35
    piratedan says:

    hard to believe were only a couple decades removed from Brin’s The Uplift Wars……

  36. 36
    efgoldman says:

    @Yutsano:

    Atlantic salmon has been farmed for years now because the wild stocks are so horrifically depleted.

    Ack! No more bagels and lox? Will life still be worth living?

  37. 37
    Maude says:

    @MaryRC:
    She must not have gone to a dog show.

  38. 38
    keestadoll says:

    @MaryRC: Didn’t think I’d have to actually type this in here but selective breeding and genetic engineering/modification are not the same thing. Not same. As in two totally different things.

  39. 39
    PurpleGirl says:

    @raven: I am not and never have been an English teacher; just someone who thinks that proper usage leads to a common language and understanding it.

  40. 40
    Roger Moore says:

    @efgoldman:
    It’s only the Atlantic salmon that have been depleted that way. The Pacific Northwest salmon are still relatively healthy, especially the ones in Alaska. There are still some serious threats to their populations, but mostly from environmental damage inland rather than from overfishing.

  41. 41
    efgoldman says:

    @PurpleGirl:

    I am not and never have been an English teacher…

    Raven just has this thing about authority.

  42. 42
    raven says:

    @PurpleGirl: Feeling guilty there are ya?

  43. 43
    jl says:

    Down with upspeak(?)

  44. 44
    LittlePig says:

    @piratedan: hard to believe were only a couple decades removed from Brin’s The Uplift Wars……

    Hopefully we’ll skip the killer whale mods…

  45. 45
    mclaren says:

    After reading some of the comments on this forum, you have to believe in the reality of roach cyborgs.

  46. 46
    Chet says:

    @keestadoll:

    Didn’t think I’d have to actually type this in here but selective breeding and genetic engineering/modification are not the same thing.

    That’s only true if you’re a species essentiallist. Funny, though, I thought the last one had died out in the 19th century.

    DNA doesn’t come in “flavors.” HGT is just mutation by different means. And yes, my degree is in biochemistry and I work in genetics so I have a basis for saying so.

  47. 47
    piratedan says:

    @LittlePig: yeah, but I can almost see the rise of rogue researchers because of the luddite GOP and the decline of state funded research. It’s as if these ninnies believe that we’ll continue to be in front of the rest of the world just because we have the most tanks. After the lessons not learned in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, these fuckers won’t be happy until they reintroduce Apartheid apparently.

  48. 48
    MaryRC says:

    @keestadoll:Genetic engineering is a way to modify our pets and other animals, but selective breeding isn’t?

    @Maude: Or seen those miniature horses (which give me the creeps. If there’s any animal whom it seems wrong to shrink down to lap-dog size, it’s the horse).

  49. 49
    Linnaeus says:

    @MaryRC:

    Genetic engineering is a way to modify our pets and other animals, but selective breeding isn’t?

    They both entail modification, but genetic engineering allows us to bypass the biological barriers that constrain “traditional” selective breeding.

  50. 50
    I_D_Inuse says:

    Nomination for BEST POST (LINK) ON BALLOON JUICE

    http://www.neuticles.com/faq.php

    Win

  51. 51
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Listen in; buy her book; make an old teacher happy.

    Grift

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