Myths And Reality -- A Newsletter for TV Drama People, Issue 11 Autumn 2001, OMNI Communications, London, p. 2


Barrie Whatley

Fish farmers in Louisiana have developed a high-tech scarecrow to deter pelicans and other fish-eating birds from destroying their entire stock. They have created a robot alligator. It detects birds electronically,
moves towards them and scares them away. Modelled on the real-life predator of the birds, the alligator, is it perhaps the start of
something more? An increasing number of experiments are being done that exploit or change animal life. While such experiments would seem to have worthy goals, some would argue that it’s time we ourselves became concerned, if not scared, about some of these creations.
An American artist, Eduardo Kac, commissioned a French lab to create a rabbit, genetically modified to glow green when exposed to certain light. He calls the rabbit Alba. As her “creator” and owner Eduardo says,
“She’s a normal rabbit except for this unique property”. His work is part of an attempt to bring the discourse on genetic modification
further into everyday life. Since Alba cannot be
said to support one particular side in the
debate surrounding genetic modification, she
provokes an ambiguous reaction. Is this really
a good enough reason for tampering with
animal genetics? Perhaps we should have
genetically modified pets for all? Surely, that
would ensure that the discourse
reaches every level of society!
Researchers at the
Max Planck Institute in
Munich have successfully
combined cells taken
from the brain of a snail
with a microprocessor
chip. The researchers
proposed that their
experiment was paving
the way to a
“new generation” of
computers - computers
that would combine
the advantages of
electronic computers
with some of the advantages of animal brains. This
combination of living tissue and machine is just
what the science fiction writers had in mind when
they dreamt up cyborgs. A similar, if less serious,
flight of fancy might envisage the development of
remotely controlled cyber- snails. You could send
them into next door’s garden to ravage their prizewinning
dahlias! We await the horticultural thriller
“Invasion of the Cyber-snails”.
In an experiment that conjures up images
of Dr. Frankenstein, American scientists have
transplanted brain cells from human foetuses
into the brains of ape foetuses. The cells were
successfully transplanted and began to grow
in the ape brains. The experiment was being
done to find new methods of treating brain
disorders such as Parkinson’s and
Alzheimer’s. But, if the acceptance of the cells
into the ape’s brain was so successful, isn’t
someone going to extend the experiment to
find out if the brain cells can be kept
functioning in the adult ape? If that were
successful, it would probably offer a treatment
for several brain diseases but it would also
open a Pandora’s Box that might better be left closed.

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