Letter sent to GeneWatch (September 27, 2000) in response to a note by Herbert Lass ("Fluorescent Fido").

Council for Responsible Genetics
5 Upland Road, Suite 3
Massachusetts 02140

Sept. 27, 2000

Dear Editor:

Mr. Lass treats Eduardo Kac’s green fluorescent protein dog project
(GeneWatch, “Genetic Snakeoil” Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 11) as self-evidently ridiculous.
But what is so ridiculous about it? After all, the jellyfish gene that codes
for green fluorescent protein (GFP) has already been transferred into mice
and rabbits. The notion of creating a dog that fluoresces is far from
conceptually outrageous. Such an animal might have considerable aesthetic
appeal. Is aesthetic appeal “genetic snake oil?” Or maybe Mr. Lass dislikes
Kac’s use of the tools of genetic engineering to create art?

Evidently Mr. Lass has not seen any of Kac’s works, never talked with the
artist, and spent little energy reflecting on his statements. Mr. Lass also
appears to know nothing about other artists’ use of DNA as a medium for
expression. Genetic art has a long and fascinating history that might well
inform current discourse about biotechnology.

What make’s Kac’s transgenic artworks fasinating to me is how they use
genetic engineering to hold up a mirror on itself, and explore the social
implications of biotechnology. The phrase “transgenic social objects,” which
Mr. Lass smugly implies is artistic hyperventilation, underscores what
should be obvious, that even humanly created organisms belong to the
community of life. We define ourselves through our interactions not only
with other human beings, but with nonhuman beings, including those that have
been genetically modified by our species. What better way to bring this
point home - literally - than by engineering a potentially wonderful
companion, a new variant of “man’s best friend?” Kac has said that he
intends tomake GFP K-9 a “member of his family.”

Yes, GFP K-9 is full of ambiguities, and brings up difficult social and
ethical questions, but these cannot be addressed by sneering. Kac is deeply
critical of directions that biotechnology has taken, but he does not slip
into the ancient, destructive dualism that construes human works and nature
as opposed and unhappily informs most discussions about biotechnology today.
What Kac aims for is heightened public awareness of the new social terrain
being created by technology. For this he deserves high praise.

Sincerely yours,

George Gessert

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