The Hatbox, The Mouse, & The DNA
Matter for a New Fable in Search of an Aesop

PATENT No. 530.
M. Steiner, Inventor, 1837.
A hatbox shaped like a hat.
Cliff Petersen Collection.
Photography, Joanne Savio.
Click here to view video from the exhibition [mpg file].

In the era of traveling circuses, the days of these patent models, barkers would attract the crowds while magicians pulled pigeons out of their top hats. The barkers have gone the way of the travelling circuses. The magicians, turning to the labs, have taken to pulling mice out of their brains. And these mice are not just plain old mice but designer mice, "transgenic non-human eukaryotic animals," patentable and patented, and, therefore claimed by the patentee. Of course, since the creation of the patent office, one has always been able to patent "compositions of matter"; and, from a certain viewpoint, animal bodies are nothing but compositions of matter, albeit living. Even live forms have previously been patentable under hte guise of plant: new kinds of roses and corn, apples and oranges obtained through cross fertilization, cutting or grafting or whatever "macro-method" used, have been patented since 1931. It is the new micro-methods, however, operating at the molecular level which raise questions in the mind of people. A quantum jump seems to have been made here. As with energy, when the atom was split, a new dimension has opened, not just scientifically and technically, but spiritually, ethically, socially, and politically when the DNA structure was "read-out" and the possibility, for humans, of altering the very course of the nature of life, from the inside so to speak, became available. It is felt that a silent genetic bomb is now at hand, even more powerful and far-reaching than the nuclear bomb. But with it also comes the possibility of redeeming much human, and generally, living misery. It all hinges on wisdom. That obviously is the weak link. So the hope is that in this bid circular world, one eventually may hit upon the wisdom gene and fuse it in the very core of every creature! In the meantime, we'll have to live by our unaltered wits.

The operations of gene fusion as described in the patent on the transgenic non-human mammals are indeed technically complex. There is no doubt, however, that all these operations can, in time, be automated, making the typography of genes as simple as computerized graphic typography has become compared to the old typesetting composition. Perhaps the growth process can also be accelerated to match the speed of computers so that as we type in the new gene, a fully grown animal emerges out of the box! Pandora's box, indeed! Will more than just Hope stay in the box this time?



Read "From Better Mousetraps to Better Mice"
[pdf file]