WE CAN thank Mary Shelley for the popular image of the mad scientist in his secret laboratory tinkering with the nuts and bolts of existence.
So maybe we should blame her for our discomfort at the work of the gene scientists, creating clones of animals, or plant varieties with attributes otherwise confined to fish or fowl.
The issue comes to mind with the news that the first offspring of a cloned cow will be sold at a Bristol auction tomorrow. The sale has been accompanied by a vigorous PR exercise extolling the sale of Dundee Paradise and Dundee Paratrooper, both created from cells in the ear of a prize- winning cow, as a breakthrough in the fight against world hunger.
It’s a change from the usual reasons given for cloning – to advance medical science and create spare parts for surgery – but let’s be thankful that the motives are once again so pure.
The Friends of Frankenstein were at it again last week with a survey that “farmers are upbeat” about GM crops. Closer investigation revealed that the researchers spoke to just 30 large scale farmers, all of whom had been paid to grow GM crops for government field trials.
The survey cost £131,000 of mostly taxpayers’ money, which seems a lot to find out that farmers in favour of GM crops are, er, in favour of them. That’s not the point, of course. The aim is to keep us aware of the potential offered by scientists manipulating the basics of life itself to make the world a better place.
Many of us will remember Dolly, the first cloned sheep, created – in secret of course – in 1996, revealed to the world in 1997 and put down in 2003 suffering from a progressive lung disease and arthritis among other things. It was a bad year. Australia’s first cloned sheep also died, unexpectedly, at the age of two years and 10 months. The cause of death was unknown, and no wonder because it was quickly cremated.
The work goes on, as it does with genetically modified plants. We’ve all eaten food with GM material in it, whether we like it or not, and whether we knew about it or not – and the GM industry does not want it labelled.
There is no evidence that it is stable in the long term or will improve our lives. And the long term effects on other forms of plant or animal are quite simply unknown.
Neither have I noticed any public demand for this science or these new forms of life. This is an agenda set in secret and carried out well away from the public eye. Only “breakthroughs” are revealed, to a chorus of spin doctors telling us that all this is being done for our benefit.
Perhaps we’re too stupid to understand it or just too influenced by Mary Shelley’s imagination – and an instinct that while mistakes are human, the gift of life is properly divine.