More and more these days, I feel like I am living in the future. OK, flying cars have yet to materialize, and we’re still waiting on the hostile robot takeover, but nonetheless, the revels of modern science are starting to feel more like science fiction.
For example, according to a Jan. 17 Yahoo! News article, a group of Japanese scientists announced a plan to resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth. The scientists, led by Akira Iritani of Kyoto University,, plan to use cloning technology and DNA samples from a mammoth carcass to bring the Ice Age creature into modern times. The team estimates that within five years, it will be able to implant the carefully doctored embryo into a living elephant, which it hopes will result in the birth of the first living woolly mammoth in thousands of years.
The breakthroughs in cloning technology don’t end with the resurrection of an eons-dead pachyderm, however. A different team of researchers in Japan has managed to create “singing mice,” according to a Dec. 2010 Discovery News article. These odd creatures are genetically modified to tweet like birds to communicate. The scientists plan to study the mutated mice in the hopes of tracing the origins of human language.
The ethics of cloning have been discussed and re-discussed too many times to count. Some contest that using science in order to create or manipulate life constitutes “playing God,” and will result in horrifying consequences.
I, however, find it hard to imagine that even the most contentious of cloning-technology detractors can view these newest developments without reaching the same conclusion as I did.
This is pretty cool.
I realize these breakthroughs in cloning technology and genetic manipulation can come across as unusual or even threatening. How many of us have seen movies of “gene-splicing gone wrong,” in which unscrupulous scientists accidentally create and unleash a monster? Woolly mammoths crashing through downtown Tokyo would be a PR nightmare for the scientific community. And I can’t think of anything more horrifying than being serenaded by a creepy huddle of musical mice running free in my apartment walls.
It’s easy to get caught up in this type of popcorn panic. So, stock up on mouse traps if you must. Buy a spear 8212; it worked well for our cave-dwelling predecessors. But in the midst of our dismay and grim predictions, it also is important to recognize what a huge step forward this is for the scientific community.
Nothing like this has been even been attempted before, and the idea that these discoveries are occurring in such an immediate timetable is incredible. After all, they have already engineered about 100 tweeting mice, and the projected deadline for the first baby mammoth is a short five years away.
As students and as citizens of the global community, we are living in a pretty exciting time. Subjects that were previously relegated to the B-movie horror flicks and science fiction musings now loom as very real possibilities. But it’s not enough to sit back and gleefully hope that my next visit to the Fort Worth Zoo will include a stop at the woolly mammoth exhibit.
News like this should encourage students to get in on the innovation that is being conducted in the scientific field. We have to capitalize on the opportunities afforded us by the constantly expanding field of science. Everyone from our elementary school teachers to politicians have drummed into us this notion that science is an invaluable tool.
So fine, be a little scared. Create a “woolly mammoth stampede escape plan” and discuss it with your loved ones. But it is important to understand the far-reaching impact this will have on changing our worldview. As students, we are the ones who will ultimately assume responsibility for creating the next cavalcade of biological experiments. TCU only requires six hours of natural science for non-majors. Take them seriously, make them count, and maybe one of us will be the first to create a giant singing horned frog.
Katie Terhune is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Helena, Mont.