Oh Lord! Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood!

To set things straight before I even bring up my topic for this entry, I’m not what I would qualify as an animal lover. That is to say, I do not dislike animals, but I’m not the kind of person who would surround himself with pets and treat them like family members. Except maybe cats, because they do their own thing and lend themselves to strange names.

Just last week I had a strange encounter with my friend Mark’s unfamiliar canines. They tried to eat my hands and I was completely unaware of this for a while before their tongues stopped licking and their teeth started biting. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

But my topic today has little to do with those other, more family-friendly members of the animal kingdom. I actually want to talk about mice. Mice which, according to this article from the BBC, humans “share a remarkable level of similarity [to], despite [each species] having evolved independently for the last 90 million years. ” Yes, folks. Now you know what Steinbeck was really on about!

According to the article, scientists have finally mapped the mouse genome. A genetic structure which us humans share a 75% similarity to. That’s beside the 5000 or so genes mice got for themselves when, I quote, “the ancestors of mice and humans went their separate evolutionary ways.”

But I’m not hear to debate evolution or anything like that. I’m not even saying I don’t believe in it. The article actually got me thinking about animal rights. It’s not so much that I, as a non-animal-lover (?), care particularly for the rights of animals. I think they should be treated fairly and humanely, sure, but I don’t advocate making them wearing dresses or serving them at the dinner table (but if your dog is awesome and can wash its own dishes then, by all means, give it dessert). The article briefly mentions protests against the use of animals in experimentation, but sort of glosses over the subject when it mentions that most of the animals used (at least in the United Kingdom) are genetically modified anyway. I’m assuming that includes these poor bastards, who have some of their genes ‘turned off’ to see which ones do what.

So again, without either advocating animal experimentation, nor taking the time to condemn it (I mean, as a journalist, I have to practice some objectivity), I have to wonder what our plans are once we’re done making mice glow in the dark. I mean, I’m damn impressed that we were even able to do that, but did we really plan to make ourselves into walking light sources? Are we going to be turning off our own useless genes and seeing what happens at some stage? I know we used mice to help further research into cancer and diabetes treatment, which is awesome, but how much money are we spending mapping mouse genes (100 million dollars, apparently) when we could be, I dunno, terraforming Mars… or better yet, the Sahara desert!

Argh. I sound like a grand objectivist with a passion for animal justice. Somebody stop me.

Look. What it comes down to is, we’ve just mapped the mouse genome, and that’s mad awesome. But what’s next? Are we going to be mapping monkey genomes and dog genomes before we actually start fixing stuff? And do the gals and guys mapping genomes, who, I’d imagine, are sitting in labs all day, care?


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