English 165LB: Literature & Biotechnology (W11)

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Posts Tagged ‘Oryx and Crake’

Splice to meet you (with discussion questions)

Posted by rraley on March 1, 2011

// from Hayley and Kellyn

In 2005 researchers inserted “human embryonic stem cells into the brains of fetal mice inside the womb,” thus creating mice 1% of their brains functioning human brain cells. Many are wondered if this crossed the line, while others, such as Stanford’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine director, Irv Weissman, sees it this way:

Anybody who puts their own moral guidance in the way of this biomedical science, where they want to impose their will—not just be part of an argument—if that leads to a ban or moratorium. … they are stopping research that would save human lives.

The goal of creating these Frankenmice was to “[provide] a living laboratory where scientists [could] study human brain diseases and drug companies [could] test the safety of experimental medicines.” In creating these new genetically engineered test subjects, speculative fiction warns us against forgetting what Kac describes as the cognitive and emotional life of these animals. Gradually reducing an living being to the cognitive state of Atwood’s ChickieNobs is crossing a hard to define line between progress and ethics.

This view is shared by the opposition to Frankenmice which insists that creating these mice “would deny that there is something distinctive and valuable about human beings that ought to be honored and protected.”


(2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/12/AR2005121201388.html

Another genetically modified group of animals reminiscent of the “pigoons” from Oryx and Crake are used produce drugs. Goats and chickens are the factories used to produce these drugs. “Just after fertilization, ‘pharmers’ insert into the embryo a human gene that codes for a particular protein — usually one that’s produced naturally in humans, but that’s lacking in people who have certain diseases. They attach that DNA code with a gene that codes for a sugar found in mammalian milk, insuring that the therapeutic protein will be expressed only in the animals’ milk or eggs.” These proteins are then isolated and used in the creation of the drugs. The benefit of this method is that a in one year a single goat can produce the  equivalent amount of protein for one drug, for example, Anthrombin,  as havested from 50,000 humans. But what are the costs??


The mice, whether actualized or not (it seems that the fully humanized mouse brains never came into existence), and “phaarmed” animals raise a new set of questions.

– What is this “distinctive and valuable” aspect of humanity that goes beyond the scientific definition of a species?

– When have we created a new species that does not have enough human genes or characteristics to classify it as human?

– Is it our bodies, our brains, our genes, a mixture of the 3, or something else that makes us human?

– What species then do we call these human/mice chimeras and what keeps us from viewing this species as natural since they are created by natural beings(us)?

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Oryx and Crake discussion thread

Posted by rraley on February 17, 2011

Discussion thread for Atwood’s novel, Oryx and Crake….

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