Friday 15 March 2013

My review of Frankenstein's Cat by Emily Anthes


Anthes takes a tour through the weird world of modified animals, be it via genetic engineering, cloning or robotics. We are coming on in leaps and bounds in what we can achieve with biotechnology and combining the electronics revolution with animals. Along the way Anthes raises ethical questions about whether we have the right to modify nature or if animals should have their own rights. There is a comprehensive set of notes if you want to explore more of the details she mentions. Anthes also gets to meet some of the movers and shakers in the fields she is investigating and also some of the animals, taking great delight to meet cloned cats and buys her own fluorescent fish. The possibilities for biotechnology are growing all the time and although Anthes makes clear that it is but a tool that can be used for good or ill you can’t help but feel a little trepidation about how it could be used for ill at the same time as being excited about how it could be used for good. The recent news of modified and highly armed dolphins escaping, with shades of We3 by Grant Morrison shows one possible nightmare scenario and can we be comfortable with remote controlled insects in the hands of governments pursuing a surveillance society strategy? At the same time it’s exciting to see that experiments on paralysed rats may offer hope for people who have been paralysed through accidents or that animal prosthetics are finding uses in human prostheses and that there are some new exciting therapies for some brain diseases coming. Although reality is more prosaic than say oryx and crake or the windup girl we should be thinking hard about these issues and Anthes book is a great place to start. You can see Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tail that Anthes spends some time with, here and it is inspiring to see that Winter is used to help children who have lost a limb come to terms with that.

Overall - Anthes writes with great intelligence and enthusiasm on her subject and I’d highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.

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