Science

Science + Kittens: Why Aren’t I Happier?

I wanted to talk a little bit about selective breeding versus genetic engineering, so I visited good old Wikipedia. As of this very moment, the entry for “genetic engineering” currently reads:

Contents

* 1 I LOve your mom she is great in bed
* 2 Applications
o 2.1 Genetic engineering and research
* 3 Ethics
o 3.1 Contending views around GM food
o 3.2 Economic and political effects
* 4 References
* 5 External links

Wishing to verify the veracity of this claim, I visited an earlier version of the same page, and found this line:

Genetic engineering has become the gold standard in protein research, and major research progress has been made using a wide variety of techniques, including: Melanie is the best

This would appear to be contradictory: if Wikipedia loves my mom and considers her to be great in the sack, who is this Melanie person? While the two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive, they certainly do present some form of cognitive dissonance. Etc.

I’ll skip the genetic engineering talk and instead just mention that Super Kittens are now on sale for about four grand, US. A company claims to have developed a breed of hypoallergenic “lifestyle pets” (aka cats), which are now in production. The biotech firm Allerca has a web site explaining all about their research, without actually presenting any hard data to prove they’ve got the goods. They claim an independent study will be hitting the streets in 2007.

The firm claims to have accomplished their goals using natural breeding methods as opposed to genetic engineering (though they did do genetic research, described here) due to the complications that can arise from cloning animals. However, they don’t bother to discuss any of the possible problems with making babies the old-fashioned way. For instance, I imagine a great deal of kittens must have been produced that do not carry the desired mutation. Where are they? How many breeding cats do they have? Where do they live? Are all kittens sold, regardless of their markings, temperment, size, or physical deformities? Allerca does claim to do their part for the pet overpopulation problem by spaying and neutering all kittens prior to shipping (yes, the kittens are shipped, though via private jet according to the site), but come on — as if they’d ship them unneutered and allow a thousand competitors to suddenly start their own breeding programs.

I find the lack of any kind of information on their breeding practices and facilities incredibly disturbing. According to their FAQs:

Is there any way to visit a cat prior to purchase? For security reasons we do not provide public access to our breeding facilities.

I can understand the desire of a person with an allergy to have a pet, and it’s not like I’m in any way a fan of PETA, but this way of treating a living thing like a Tickle Me Elmo just sucks.

Sorry this post doesn’t have more to do with genetic engineering issues, but I really don’t feel like talking about how my mom is in bed.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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