W6: The Line by Stephanie Mercier

This week in class and in both readings, Eduardo Kac’s “GFP Bunny” was mentioned. I first saw the picture of the bunny on the course website. I thought it was just some edited picture not a real green bunny. When I found out it was really green I was amazed, until I found out that it was only green under certain light.

GFP bunny in normal light

GFP bunny in normal light

Note: As I was searching for pictures of the GFP bunny on google, I noticed that many of the pictures were linked from last year’s DESMA 9 blog.

In the article “Leonardo’s choice: the ethics of artists working with genetic technologies” by Carol Gigliotti, she mentions that many artists have released some of their new life forms into the environment. This is a little unsettling. I watched the movie Resident Evil Apocalypse recently. In the movie, a scientist creates a super zombie to track down his secret weapon (Alice) and I remember thinking, “Wow! What a stupid idea – that is so going to backfire.” A similar scenario comes to mind when I think of artists releasing genetically engineered animals into the wild. For example, an artist creates some genetically engineered bacteria and releases the bacteria into the wild. The bacterium gains some advantage through the genetic modification and starts to dominate its environment. In the case of the GFP bunny, I believe the release of the animal would probably have no effect. I don’t see how it would be advantageous to be fluorescent under certain light; rather it would make the bunny more visible to predators. According to natural selection, GFP bunnies and other GFP animals would just die off.

Another unsettling thing about GFP bunnies and biotechnology and animals is “what do they do with the rejects?” I wonder how many times it took Eduardo Kac to successfully produce his GFP bunny. I’m sure he didn’t succeed on his first try. If he injected all these bunnies with the protein that made them glow and they didn’t end up glowing could he just release those bunnies back into the wild and start with a new bunny? Doesn’t sound ethical. I mean how are we supposed to tell whether the experiment has any affect on them and how that effect will affect the environment? Do we just kill the rejects then? One episode of robot chicken details what Cobra (GI Joe’s enemy) does with its clone rejects:

(Specific scene is 5 mins into the video.)

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_ch00XMjMwNTgxOTY=.html

Would we do what Cobra does and kill off the rejects? Maybe. My friend works as a lab assistant at UCSD. He assists with some research with rats (I’m not sure exactly what the research is about). After they are put through their experiment, their DNA is tested and the rejects are put to death by gas. We call him “Rat Hitler”, but he replies “they’re only rats.” But what if they’re not only rats? Are we okay with putting reject bunnies to death? What about reject dogs?

In the following article, the author talks about chimeric creatures, or creatures with both human and animal characteristics.

http://docinthemachine.com/2007/03/27/humansheep/

The most recent chimera is a human-sheep chimera with the body of a sheep and half-human organs. Specifically, the human-sheep chimera is composed of 15% human cells and 85% sheep cells. The purpose is to eventually breed these chimera as a donor animals. For example, if a patient needed a new liver, we could transplant the organs from a sheep enhanced with the patient’s DNA to the patient. But if the sheep is composed of 15% human cells, isn’t this like killing a human? No? What about 50%? What about 90%? Where do we draw the line?

-Stephanie Mercier

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