Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fools Rush In Where Scientists Warily Tread

I remember reading a collection of science fiction short stories at my aunt’s house as a child visiting one summer. My uncle had passed away by this time and both were WWII AAF veterans with a house in Florida. I think the author was Leigh Brackett, but it has been so many years and she got rid of the books since so that I cannot attest to such. But this one story has stuck with me, more so than Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring ever has. The story was called The Gone Dogs.

This was a future world where humans had made contact with aliens who have shared technology with Earth. Suddenly a disease erupts that is wiping out all domesticated dogs and this sends the people into a panic. After frantic efforts to save some dogs in a remote robotic controlled super kennel, the truth is learned as to what caused this plague. A rancher, using his alien supplied gene-splicer, decided to wipe out the coyote. Alas his coding was not up to snuff and his pet virus jumped to dogs with human beings as carriers. The last dogs on Earth die when a woman, deranged with grief over the death of her dog, breaks the quarantine and infects the last of Earth’s dogs.

Pretty scary stuff packed into a story that is now 40+ years old, back when people were just teasing out the first bits of information about DNA and genes. In fact it is far more frightening than some later literature written by Michael Crichton. One does not need a Tyrannosaurus-Rex sized warning to realize amateurs playing with recombining DNA is something to be avoided.

I should amend the above statement with a caveat; people with a healthy dose of common sense would avoid doing such. But people in this story from the Associated Press seem to be missing that needed dosage.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.
In her San Francisco dining room lab, for example, 31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.
Needless to say, I am very much concerned. Even if their project is successful there is the problem of this living creation not mutating into something lethal. And what of their failures, are they following proper procedures like incinerating them at a very high temperature or are they merely pouring them down the drain and hoping its all good?

What a ‘brave’ new world these people are ushering in. The world will not end with a bang, but with a whimper or even a bio-engineered sniffle.

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