Scary Monsters

Three Man-Made Mutants
& One Beauty All Her Own

To be riveting, a view of the future has to be unsettling, unfamiliar, disturbing even. The whole sci-fi genre is built upon fears of the unexpected, the threat of chaos taking over natural order. In fact, it should first get rid of concepts such as natural and order altogether.
It’s a completely different animal when that extends to our real and present world, and it affects, well, animals. Feel uneasy when it’s warm in winter? check. Nervous with melting glaciers? check. But have you seen a two-headed snake lately? Or an abnormal butterfly? What about a human-milk producing goat?
And the worst part of it all is, we did that. Our so proud species, capable of writing symphonies or reaching for the moon, can also act ever so casually towards that same natural world that was around billions of years before us. And treat Earth as our landfill.
It gets personal when we’re talking about living, breathing, beautiful beings, of course. For the record, though, we’re no prudes; nature has been creating monsters since the beginning of times, and to consider it ‘gentle’ is a fatal, wishy-washy misconception, often deservedly punishable by death.
But exactly because we claim to be a step higher of the brutal and uncontrollable forces of the wild, it’s also our responsibility to own up our flaws. Thank goodness then that every once in a while the unpredictable tops itself and produces a creature of rare beauty, even if not as esthetically pleasing as nature is so used to producing.
You may say that all animals below were indeed harmed by ways our civilization considers acceptable: the condition that produces a two-face species has been around since ancient times, but it seems to be increasingly connected with chemical pollution. The odd butterflies were found around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants. And genetic engineering is behind the goats with human milk.
Scary indeed, isn’t it? “What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder,” wrote Aldous Huxley in his 1931 nightmarish view of the future, Brave New World. And the thing is, we want that, just like we wanted cellphones, and social networks, and machines to tell us what to do next. It’s what comes along with our best wishes that helps us to commit our most misguided deeds.

Some of the biggest challenges to our survival in this planet are becoming so complex, so apparently intractable, so wide reaching and overbearing that we’re forced at times to cheat a bit, in order to handle them. Take hunger, for example: we produce more food than ever before in history, and yet, more people go to sleep hungry or die of starvation these days.
What to do? Science has been tackling the issue through the only way it knows: by trial and painstakingly error, experimenting with this and attempting to use that. But since food is also big business, not every part plays by the rules. It’s in this vacuum that corporations seize research and rush to market unproven technologies. After all, there are profits to be made.
Genetic manipulation may hold the key to create super crops, capable of producing more food and better ward off plagues. It can also create strains of seeds that may prove uncontrollable, in the long run, and posing a serious threat to flora, fauna, the environment, and everything else in its wake. Its benefits, then, will be long gone and lost.
It also reintroduces the concept of ownership of living matter, in a scale never possible before. The fact that trade of genetically-manipulated seeds has already been a reality, even before ethical and fairness issues are considered is, of course, what the term ‘unsettling’ was invoked in the first graph of this post.
Demand, scientists at the UC Davis say, has determined the research leading to the breeding of transgenic goats. Human genes were transfered to animal embryos, to boost production of breast milk enzymes and proteins. We all know the proven immunological benefits of human breast milk for human babies.
But perhaps instead of prioritize a worldwide campaign to educate humans and promote the advantages of milk produced by the species, scientists received incentives to go the other way, just in case mothers are not available or can’t nurse their babies. It’s a valid point but one can’t help but wonder whether, for the same costs, wouldn’t it be better to keep it all simple.

There’s probably only a handful of people on Earth, today, that didn’t see this one coming. After last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Complex, in Japan, there were few doubts that flora and fauna would be severely affected by radiation. The first results are coming in and they only confirm our worse fears.
The same had happened in the areas surrounding the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear plant, which went into complete meltdown in the 1980s. It didn’t take long then and now, for researchers to start collecting odd abnormalities and genetic malformations in a variety of species, caused by contamination.
That scientists chosen to collect butterflies, arguably one of the most stunning creatures in nature, to gauge the effects of radiation, is no small irony: part of their allure is the fact that they lead two separate lives, and go through a mutation on their own. The crucial difference, obviously, is that they improve, at least visually, with such transformation.
We’re not sure what smaller wings and irregular eyes can possibly ‘improve’ the lives of these gracious beings. We can always say that we didn’t mean for that to happen, which sounds a lot like the lame excuse a six-year-old would offer, when caught trying to fit the poodle in the microwave. Lack of parenting would contextualize the situation way better.

The case of Hydra, a two-headed boa on display at the zoo of Szczecin, Poland, is maybe too common to register in our oh so busy Internet viewership schedule. After all, polycephalia and its variations is known to happen for unknown causes since pre-historical times. It’s also present in humans and is associated with siamese and other cojoined body conditions.
What’s still unsettling, though, is its elusive cause. As with the multicolored lobsters, theories abound but none is conclusive. And when it happens to humans, and it can’t be addressed by separating the twins, for example, the consequences, physical, emotional, or both, can be devastating.
Many specimens, animal or human, don’t survive. But Hydra is that rare case that it’s not just survived, but its apparently independent heads have each their own ideas of what to eat and when. As it is, it may be closer to a sideshow attraction than to justify serious research. But that’s the kind of research worth pursuing.
While what generates cojoining births is a body malformation disorder specific to twins, it’s of note that, at least in modern times, the condition is more prevalent in impoverished Asian and African countries, than in rich societies. That may indicate a nutritional factor, but there are not many studies asserting the connection around.
In Greek mythology, the self-regenerating heads of Lernaean Hydra were powerful and malignant forces to be reckoned with, until the creature was killed by Heracles. We’re sure the boa of Poland is a nice chap, and won’t even approach the size of that ancient myth. We wouldn’t want to have many of them slithering around, though, without at least knowing why they come that way.

Venus, named after yet another deity, is but the latest cat to take the Internet by storm. Somehow though, we doubt that any genetic engineering or even artistic rendition would come up with the astounding beauty and perfect symmetry of the face of this cat. In her case, the word unsettling has finally reached friendly territory.
But despite her half black, half yellow face, split exactly in the middle, and eyes, each of a different color, Venus is unfazed, as cats, well, usually are. We can be all fussy and statistical about what odds led nature to produce such a unique set of features, but nothing will mean a thing to her. And that’s just fine.
For felines, calicos, as if you don’t already know it, can only be female. So, even if we don’t particularly went along with the nickname the media gave her, the Chimera Cat, we’re still entitled to imagine how her litter would look like. We could, in fact, imagine all sorts of things. Then again, it wouldn’t mean a thing to her.
One of the reasons that responsibility must be always ours as humans, is because cats and boas, and lobsters and goats are, blissfully, devoid of any malice or poisoned self-awareness. So while Venus couldn’t care less for being the center of world’s attention, we’re glad that she came along with her beauty, just in time to tie up this post in an upbeat note.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.