Phillips, Graham. Our Fabulous Future: Mother Nature is in the Nursing Home and the Kids are Running the Biosphere (Sydney: ABC Books, 2002), pp. 31-32.


Graham Phillips

What do you buy pet lovers who have everything? They have the cat that sings, and a dog that surfs. And they’ve already bought tickets to this year’s Pig Imitation Festival in the south of France.
(It’s an animal fan’s delight: townsfolk dress up in eye-catching pig suits and ‘oink’ to win prizes.)

The answer is a glowing green rabbit. Artist Eduardo Kac has created one using genetic engineering. Into a bunny embryo he inserted the gene that causes jellyfish to glow. A little while later, out popped Alba, the iridescent rabbit. When blue light is shone on her, she fluoresces green.

Realease Alba into the wild and she’d no doubt cause a few shooters to swear off the grog. And there’d be more farmers than usual reporting alien encounters. But would a gaudy rabbit really make an appropriate pet?

Most certainly, insists Kac. After all, the jellyfish gene Alba is carrying is harmless. In fact, in the lab, scientists routinely insert it in many species in their experiments as part of their genetic engineering. It doesn’t have side effects, apart from turning the animal green. In other words, Alba is as cute and cuddly as any black or white rabbit; she just happens to come in fluoro.

Fluorescent pets could even become quite popular. After all, plenty of people like to own exotic new breeds of dog, and these are no more than genetically engineered wolves. (Engineered by breeders rather than scientists, but engineered nonetheless.)

And why stop with luminous bunnies? In this brave new era of genetic engineering, all sorts of exotic new pets could soon be pulled out of the scientific hat. While we joke about it, and insist that mixing and matching species like this is just too weird and will never happen, Kac thinks we could be wrong.

He says his glowing green rabbit demonstrates society’s split attitude to genetic engineering. At first glance Alba seems utterly bizarre - even repulsive. Then, when you get past your initial reaction and star thinking, it’s hard to find anything really wrong with Alba.
She’s simply a different colour. Most of us would quickly get used to her.

Will people get used to genetically engineered humans too, in the same way? Even get used to that big genetic taboo - cloned people?

When Dolly the sheep was cloned several years ago, almost everybody said how disgusting it would be to clone people. Yet, like the green rabbit, it’s hard to find anything terribly wrong with cloning when you think about it. After all, in essence, a clone is just an identical twin, born years later rather than a few minutes.

In fact clones do not bear all the similarities of twins. They are only genetically identical, whereas twins have also developed in the same womb and have had the same mother.
Clones, in comparison, not only grow in different wombs but at different times (and are therefore exposed to different hormone levels). And they effectively have three mothers: the one who passed on her genes, the one who donated the egg and the one who provided the womb. (Genes may play a large part in how a person turns out, but these other factors certainly count.)

Surely it’s only a matter of time for cloning techniques to be made safe enough for the first human clone to be born. At firs we’ll be shoked - outraged! Then we’ll realise clones are just perfectly normal human beings. We’ll probably get used to them as quickly as we got used to test-tube babies back in the 1970s.

Back to Kac Web