Opinion Column

Not-so-intelligent design

By Victor Schukov

Victor Schukov

Victor Schukov

I am shaken and stirred by a cocktail of recent headlines vis-à-vis scientists messing around in Mother Nature's kitchen. Not long ago, we read of stem cell injections slowing the aging process in mice (although experts predict a run on really tiny reading glasses and hearing aids), and the first genetically modified monkeys born in the United States (wasn't that accomplished in Congress years ago?) and the creation of giant army ants. (All true, unfortunately.) The latter makes sense to me, although I don't know how we're going to teach them to fire weapons; they have already nailed the marching aspect, however.

More importantly, scientists have created fluorescent green or red glow-in-the-dark cats (like some people will have their preference in colour. This is a real breakthrough because, personally, I like a variety when choosing my cat's luminescence.)

Of course you've heard by now of DNA-twisted super-salmons called frankenfish, but how about science's frankenswine? (The names make me really worry about what goes into the cereal Frankenberries).

Heading up the products of mankind's God syndrome, we have mud-waddling enviro-pigs - as they are so dubiously called - that do a better job of processing their own phosphorus, the stuff that pollutes rural water tables. Certainly, along with the new 25-per-cent less pull-my- hoof flatulent cow, this will add to the rosiness of our farmlands.

But my favourite is not an animal application but that of a plant: the venomous cabbage whose genes have been tweaked with the programming of scorpions' poison. What you now have is a leafy vegetable that "naturally" offs caterpillars. Apparently, with even further modification of the modifier the cabbage is not harmful to humans. I think that an easier way would be just to set loose battalions of scorpions in cabbage fields and they control the caterpillars directly. Not to worry, the introduction of danger to humans during harvesting will be solved when we invent a human being immune to scorpion venom. For that matter why not just genetically invent a human being immune to DDT and then spray the hell out of everything - goodbye forever, vile mosquitoes.

Of course, spreading all of that irritating insecticide will probably make cockroaches angry.

Clearly, human beings will not be deterred from playing God until we are surrounded by dogs who not only take themselves out for a walk but also pick up after themselves. I can picture a day when your cat knocks on your bedroom door and says in perfect English, "My food bowl is empty. Where do we keep the can opener?" the ultimate excuse for humankind's foray into intelligent design is to cure our species of terminal diseases; a noble cause that only has the side-effect of possibly introducing a mind-altering pandemic that makes us think that we are all chickens - in itself, not so harmful until you decide to lay eggs.

You must excuse me; my cat is furiously meowing about something. I hope that it is not an invasion of giant army ants.

Victor Schukov's column appears each Thursday.