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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Are they taking the Mickey?

If it had been April the First everyone could have laughed. If you were a science fiction reader or a pro-life activist maybe the lips were puckered and the eyes narrowed as the news came out that mice have been modified, genetically, to run kilometres instead of metres before being exhausted, to eat like a dog without getting fat and to live longer and have sex more often. Funnily enough I saw this news as I put down a hard-boiled but engrossing Sci Fi detective thriller called Black Man by Richard Morgan. The black man in question had also been genetically modified by activating an atavistic gene we used to have when we clubbed everything to death that moved. He is bigger, better, faster and smarter than any unmodified human – and he is also amoral. In Morgan’s distopia the black man is a thirteen and the fundamentalist Jesus freaks of future America regard him as an abomination. Thirteens are hunted down and sent to Mars or imprisoned. Or used to hunt and kill. The racist attitudes of today become magnified to a national fomenting hatred.

Other viewers of the news may have made the not too intellectual leap from Mighty Mouse to themselves and worked out that if they could go to the clinic and have a simple gene-modification they might also be able to run like a cheetah, eat Big Macs without adding an ounce of fat, live to be a hundred and fifty and have sex like a Hitchcockian train and tunnel; infinite entering without ever having to leave.

We seem to be accelerating our capacity to modify ourselves and our fauna and flora in any way we think might meet the challenges of the future; a poisoned atmosphere, over-population, colonies on hostile planets. It is all happening below the level of our consciousness. On the surface we live our varied lives and die and our immortality lies only in the genes that we have passed on to our children, for good or ill, a random lottery set up at conception by adults who have been, for whatever reason, attracted to each other.

However, we are teetering now on the edge of a designer-gene world. Our very natures are entering the laboratory so that our progeny can be planned, mapped and sculpted. As Morgan’s and Mary Shelley’s books both intuit, these offspring could switch from being bonny babies to fearsome monsters.


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