Anyone who thinks that things will move slowly is
being very naive.
Lee Silver, Molecular Biologist
A bizarre and perverse paradox is currently unfolding in
the surreality of the 21st century. As science and technology develop by
leaps and bounds, as genetics rapidly advances, and as a proliferation
of alternatives to animal experimentation emerges, the science-industry
complex is turning a corner where it may exploit more animals than ever
This principally is because genetic engineering and
cloning are being intensively developed for commercial purposes as all
natural reality -- from microorganisms and plants to animals and human
beings -- is subject to genetic reconstruction in a fully "Second
In a potent combination, genetic engineering and cloning
technologies are used together in order, first, to custom design a
transgenic animal to suit the needs of science and industry (the
distinction is irrevocably blurred) and, second, to mass reproduce the
hybrid creation endlessly.
Cloning is a return to asexual reproduction and bypasses
the caprice of the genetic lottery and random shuffling of genes. It
dispenses with the need to inject a gene into thousands of newly
fertilized eggs to get a successful result; rather, much as the printing
press replaced the scribe, cloning allows mass reproduction of a devised
type and thus opens genetic engineering to vast commercial
possibilities. Animals are far more efficient replication media than
petri dishes, and life science companies are poised to make billions of
dollars in profits.
To date, science has engineered thousands of varieties
of transgenic animals and has cloned sheep, calves, goats, bulls, pigs,
and mice. Though still far from precise, cloning nevertheless has become
routine. What's radically new and startling is not cloning itself, as
since 1952 scientists have replicated organisms from embryonic cells,
but rather the new techniques of cloning from adult mammal cells. These
methods accomplish what scientists long considered impossible --
reverting adult (specialized) cells to their original (non-specialized)
embryonic state where they can be reprogrammed to form a new organism --
the identical twin of the adult that provided the original donor cell.
But when Ian Wilmut and his associates from the Roslin
Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, announced their earth-shattering
discovery in March 1997, the "impossible" appeared in the form of a
sheep named Dolly. Dolly's donor cells came from a six-year-old Finn
Dorset Ewe. Wilmut starved mammary cells in a low-nutrient tissue
culture where they became quiescent and subject to reprogramming. He
then removed the nucleus containing genetic material from an
unfertilized egg cell of a second sheep, a Scottish Blackface, and, in a
nice Frankenstein touch, fused the two cells with a spark of
electricity. The resulting embryo was then implanted into a third sheep,
a surrogate mother who gave birth to Dolly in July 1996.
Many critics said Dolly was either not a real clone or
just a fluke. But less than two years later, scientists had cloned
cattle, bulls, and mice, and had even made clones of clones of clones,
producing genetic simulacra in mass batches as Huxley envisioned
happening to human beings in Brave New World. The commercial
possibilities of cloning animals was dramatic and obvious for all to
behold. The race was on to patent novel cloning technologies and the
transgenic offspring they would engender.
The idea is to arrive at the ideal animal and
repeatedly copy it exactly as it is.
Dr. Mark Hardy
With the birth of Dolly, a new wave of animal
exploitation had arrived, and anxiety grew about a world of cloned
humans that scientists said was technically feasible and perhaps
inevitable. Wilmut himself, however, is not an advocate of human
cloning, and designed his revolutionary technology with one idea in
mind: manufacturing herds of animals for human use. In Wilmut's words,
"The biotechnology industry exists to use genetic information to cure
disease and improve agriculture."
The possibilities for genetic engineering and cloning
animals are now endless. Animals are being designed and bred as living
drug and organ factories, as their bodies are refashioned, disrupted,
and mutilated to benefit meat and dairy industries. Genetic engineering
also is employed by biomedical research in novel ways by infecting
animals with diseases that become a part of their genetic make-up, as in
the case of researchers trying to replicate the effects of cystic
fibrosis in sheep. Most infamously, Harvard University, with funding
from Du Pont, has patented a mouse -- OncoMouse -- that has human cancer
genes built into its genetic makeup and are expressed in its offspring.
In the booming industry of "pharming" (pharmaceutical
farming), animals are genetically modified to secrete therapeutic
proteins and medicines in their milk. The first major breakthrough came
in January 1998, when Genzyme Transgenics created transgenic cattle
named George and Charlie. The result of splicing human genes and bovine
cells, they were cloned to make milk that contains human proteins such
as the blood-clotting factor needed by hemophiliacs. Co-creator James
Robl said, "I look at this as being a major step toward the
commercialization of this [cloning] technology."
Strolling through the Brave New Barnyard, one can find
incredible beings that appear normal but are genetic satyrs and chimera.
Here cows produce lactoferrin, a human protein useful for treating
infections. Goats manufacture antithrombin III, a human protein that can
prevent blood clotting, and serum albumin, which regulates the transfer
of fluids in the body. Sheep produce alpha antitrypsin, a drug used to
treat cystic fibrosis. Pigs secrete phytase, a bacterial protein that
enables them to produce less of the pollutant phosphorous in their
manure, and chickens are bred to make lysozyme, an antibiotic, in their
eggs to keep their own infections down.
As an example of the bizarre wonders of genetic
technology, and of the erasure of boundaries between organic and
inorganic matter and different species, scientists have implanted a
spider gene into goats, so that their milk produces a super-strong
material -- BioSteel -- which can be used for bulletproof vests, medical
supplies, and aerospace and engineering projects. In order to produce
vast quantities of BioSteel, Nexia Biotechnologies intend to house
thousands of goats in 15 weapons-storage buildings, confining them in
small holding pens.
Organs R Us
A cow is nothing but cells on the hoof.
Animals are genetically engineered and cloned for yet
another reason, to produce a stock of organs for human transplant. Given
the severe shortage of human organs, thousands of patients every year
languish and die before they can receive a kidney, liver, or heart.
Rather than encouraging preventative medicine and finding ways to
encourage more organ donations, medical science has turned to
xenotransplantation, and has begun breeding herds of animals (with pigs
as a favored medium) to be used as organ sources for human
Clearly, this is a very hazardous enterprise due to the
possibility of animal viruses causing new plagues and diseases in the
human population (a danger which exists also in pharmaceutical milk).
For many scientists, however, the main concern is that the human body
rejects animal organs as foreign and destroys them within minutes.
Scientists seek to overcome this problem by genetically modifying the
donor organ so that they knock out markers in pig cells and add genes
that make their protein surfaces identical to those in humans.
Scientists envision cloning entire herds of altered pigs and other
transgenic animals so that an inexhaustible warehouse of organs and
tissues would be available for human use.
Whereas genetic and cloning technologies in the cases
described at least have the potential to benefit human beings, they have
also been appropriated by the meat and dairy industries for blatantly
self-serving and unethical purposes. It's the H.G. Wells scenario where,
in his prophetic novel Food of the Gods, scientists invent a novel
"Boomer" food which prompts every living being that consumes it to grow
to gargantuan proportions. Today, cattle and dairy industries are
engineering and cloning designer animals that are larger, leaner,
faster-growing value producers. Since 1997, at least one country, Japan,
has sold cloned beef to its citizens.
With synthetic chemicals and DNA alteration, pharmers
can produce pigs that mature twice as fast and provide twice the normal
amount of sows per litter as they eat 25% less feed, and cows that
produce many times more milk. While anomalies such as self-shearing
sheep and broiler chickens with fewer feathers have already been
assembled, some macabre visionaries foresee engineering pigs and
chickens with flesh that is tender or can be easily microwaved, and
chickens that are wingless so they wont need bigger cages. The next step
would be to just create and replicate animals torsos -- sheer organ
sacks -- and dispense with superfluous heads and limbs. In fact,
scientists have undertaken this gruesome procedure with mice and frogs.
To invoke another brilliant anticipation by H.G. Wells,
in his novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, the agricultural use of genetics
and cloning has produced horrible monstrosities. Transgenic animals
often are born deformed, and suffer from fatal bleeding disorders,
arthritis, tumors, stomach ailments, kidney disease, diabetes, inability
to nurse and reproduce, behavioral and metabolic disturbances, high
mortality rates, and Large Offspring Syndrome. A Maryland team of
scientists created the infamous "Beltway pig" afflicted with arthritis,
deformities, and respiratory disease. Cows engineered with bovine growth
hormone (rBGH) suffer from mastitis, hoof and leg maladies, reproductive
problems, numerous abnormalities, and early death. Similarly,
experiments in the genetic engineering of salmon have led to rapid
growth and various aberrations. A Maine lab specialized in breeding sick
and abnormal mice who go by names such as Fathead, Fidget, Hairless,
Dumpy, and Greasy. One study claimed that cloned cows are ten times more
likely to be unhealthy as their natural counterparts. Such are the
aberrant results where technology flagrantly disrupts natural processes
and life cycles.
Right now we don't know what the limits [of
science and technology] are. All the traditional rules we thought about
the ... animal kingdom ... are thrown out the window.
Congressional Office of Technology Assessment
Despite the claims of its champions, the genetic
engineering of animals is a radical departure from natural evolution and
traditional forms of animal breeding. It involves rapid species change
and manipulation of genes rather than whole organisms. Moreover,
scientists can create novel beings across species boundaries that
previously were unbridgeable. Ours is a world where cloned calves carry
human genes, human embryo cells are merged with enucleated cows' eggs,
monkeys are bred with jellyfish DNA, a surrogate horse gives birth to a
zebra, and tiger cubs emerge from the womb of an ordinary housecat.
The ability to clone a desired genetic type brings the
animal kingdom into entirely new realms of exploitation and
commercialization. From the new scientific perspective, animals are
framed as genetic information that can be edited, transposed, and copied
endlessly. Pharming and xenotransplantation build on the system of
factory farming that dates from the postwar period and is based on the
confinement and intensive management of animals within enclosed
buildings that are prisonhouses of suffering.
The proclivity of the science-industry complex to
instrumentalize animals as nothing but resources for human use and
profit worsens in the Brave New World. Still confined for maximal
control, animals are no longer seen as whole species, but rather as
fragments of genetic information to be manipulated for any purpose.
Weighty ethical and ecological concerns in the new modes of animal
appropriation are largely ignored, as animals are still framed in the
17th century Cartesian worldview that views them as nonsentient
machines. As Jeremy Rifkin puts it, "Reducing the animal kingdom to
customized, mass-produced replications of specific genotypes is the
final articulation of the mechanistic, industrial frame of mind. A world
where all life is transformed into engineering standards and made to
conform to market values is a dystopian nightmare, and needs to be
opposed by every caring and compassionate human being who believes in
the intrinsic value of life."
Animals patenting has become a huge industry for
multinational corporations and chemical companies. PPL Therapeutics,
Genzyme Transgenics, Advanced Cell Technology, and other enterprises are
issuing broad patents claims on methods of cloning nonhuman animals and
the life forms that result. PPL Therapeutics, the company that
"invented" Dolly, has applied for the patents and agricultural rights to
the production of all genetically altered mammals that could produce
therapeutic proteins in their milk. Nexia Biotechnologies obtained
exclusive rights to all results from spider silk research. Patent number
4,736,866 was granted to Du Pont for Oncomouse, which the U.S. Patent
Office described as a new "composition of matter."
Certainly, genetics does not augur solely negative
developments for animals. Given the reality of dramatic species
extinction and loss of biodiversity, scientists are collecting the sperm
and eggs of endangered species like the giant panda in order to preserve
them in a "frozen zoo." It is stimulating indeed to ponder the
possibilities of a Jurassic Park scenario of reconstructing extinct
species (as, for example, scientists recently have uncovered the
well-preserved remains of a tasmanian tiger and a woolly mammoth).
But critics dismiss this as an impossible fantasy and a
misguided search for a technofix that distracts focus from the real
problem of preserving habitat and biodiversity. Even if animals could be
cloned, there is no way to clone habitats lost forever to chainsaws and
bulldozers. Moreover, the behaviors of cloned animals would unavoidably
be altered and they would end up in zoos or absurd entertainment
settings. Additionally, there is the likelihood that genetic engineering
and cloning would aggravate biodiversity loss to the extent it creates
monolithic superbreeds that could be easily wiped out by disease. There
is also great potential for ecological disaster when new organisms enter
an environment, and genetically modified organisms are especially
unpredictable in their behavior and effects.
Yet advances in genetics also may bypass and obviate
pharming and xenotransplantation through use of stem cell technologies
that clone human cells, tissues, or perhaps even entire organs and limbs
from human embryos or an individual's own cells. This would eliminate at
once the problem of immune rejection and the need for animals.
The development of new sciences and technologies
therefore is ambiguous, open-ended, and unpredictable. For now, the only
certainty is that the juggernaut of the genetic revolution is rapidly
advancing and that in the name of medical progress animals are being
victimized and exploited in new ways.
Steve Best is Associate Professor of Philosophy and
Humanities at the University of Texas, El Paso. He is Vice-President of
the Vegetarian Society of El Paso, a long time vegan and animal rights
activist, and author of numerous books and articles in the areas of
social theory, postmodernism, and cultural studies. Some of his writings
are posted at http://utminers.utep.edu/best/.
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