is engineering animals ethically correct?
Anthes, journalist and author. In her new book, Frankenstein’s
Cat: Cuddling Up to BioTechnology’s Brave New Beasts (Scientific
American/Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2013), she explores
the fast-moving field of animal biotechnology. This emerging
science finds ways to clone, genetically modify, and otherwise
engineer animals’ bodies to make better food products,
new medicines, healthier pets and work animals that are specially
suited to meet a wide range of human demands.
Biotechnologists’ research around the world has already
led to a multitude of improvements to both human and animal
life. But the progress comes at a price: Animals are exploited
and sometimes subjected to great pain and distress, either as
test subjects or as finished products. Genetically modified
farm animals that produce better beef but suffer debilitating
physical ailments are among the less-savory anecdotes that Anthes
relates to readers in her book. Anthes is all for innovations
that help people and animals alike. But she urges science and
society to come to terms on some sound ethical parameters for
using animals without abusing them.
discusses her book and her observations in the following interview.
Conducting the interview was Rick Docksai, associate editor
of World Future Society.
Originally published on www.wfs.org. and used with permission
from the World Future Society.
Franeknstein's Cat will be a help in getting some meaningful
discussions on these issues started. Would you say that’s
one of your motivations for writing it?
ANTHES: Yes, and I realize that my book will not be the final
word on this subject. Science is moving fast, and some people
will disagree with me about the conclusions that I draw. But
I do hope that it will at least start the discussion.
FUTURIST: How challenging will it be to regulate the science,
at the national or international level?
ANTHES: It’s going to be very hard to keep tight controls
over these things. And a lot of countries haven’t decided
whether and how they want to regulate these biotechnology products.
So it’s difficult to tell what kinds of legislation that
individual countries will end up with.
do believe that there are some international accords on animal
welfare, but that’s as far as we can expect international
agreement to go, especially when some of these applications
are products that could make certain countries more competitive
or wealthier than others.
FUTURIST: North America and Europe are generally cautious on
animal biotechnology, as you note in your book. But what would
be some parts of the world that you see moving more quickly
ahead and maybe even taking the lead on this new science?
ANTHES: I think there are a couple of places where we are seeing
people move forward, in Asia especially: South Korea, China,
and India. There are also some countries that are moving forward
quickly -- and this surprised me -- in South America, such as
Brazil and Argentina.
FUTURIST: Brazil and Argentina make sense, actually, when you
consider that both countries are heavy exporters of beef.
ANTHES: That’s true. And also, Brazil has become competitive
in the area of genetically modified crops, and they see animal
products as a natural outgrowth of that, and as another chance
to become even more competitive. To them, animal biotechnology
represents even more of a growth opportunity.
FUTURIST: Let’s talk now about the subject of pets. You
have some interesting examples in your book of how animal biotechnology
stands to boost pet health. For example, there are those researchers
who have been mapping the physical ailments that each dog breed
is prone to suffer, and the specific gene sequences behind each
ANTHES: That’s true. Each breed, there have been these
analyses, and each one is prone to certain problems. It’s
hard to keep track of which breed is prone to which problem.
FUTURIST: You discuss, in your book, people cloning their pets
in hopes of resurrecting them after they die. But what about
the potential for simply lengthening the pets’ life spans?
People have been living longer and longer over the past century
thanks to advancements in medicine. Veterinary practice has
surely come a long way, too. So how likely is a cow or dog today
likely to live longer than a cow or dog living in the 1920s?
On the same token, how much longer might a cow or dog living
in the 2080s live?
ANTHES: That’s an interesting question. I haven’t
seen any statistics on how longevity has changed. But I would
imagine that, certainly with companion animals, it has increased.
We can now give dogs chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants,
and other treatments that weren’t possible decades ago.
FUTURIST: Using animals as test subjects may be a necessary
prerequisite for many medical applications. Still, as you note,
research on animals can lead to products that benefit animals
and people both. How often is it that study of one species results
in something that improves the health of another?
ANTHES: I think that often is the case. So we might use animals
to develop a therapy for a human medicine, but then we find
that what we develop for human medicine can be useful for veterinary
medicine. We can think about whether the techniques that we
develop in human medicine can be applied back to the animals,
and vice versa.
lots of standard medicines, like antihistamines, were developed
for humans but can be used in pets. Lots of them cross species
FUTURIST: Your book opens with Chinese experiments that deactivate
individual genes in individual mice, and a few mice exhibited
disorders of one kind or another. Perhaps therein might lie
a path to discovering some insights into similar disorders in
people and in other animals, and how to treat them.
ANTHES: I think it’s certainly possible. One of the mice
that we developed might be a good model for OCD (Obsessive–compulsive
disorder), so that could be used to develop a treatment for
OCD. That would be useful for dogs and humans.
FUTURIST: Dogs get OCD, too?
ANTHES: I don’t know if they get official OCD diagnoses.
But some dogs do exhibit OCd-like symptoms. And veterinarians
do prescribe Prozac and other anti-anxiety drugs for dogs.
FUTURIST: Animal-rights activists certainly would claim a stake
in all of these discussions. Some people would argue, though,
that the animal-rights movement has a weaker voice than it did
decades ago, and that this is partly due to the more prominent
animal-rights groups taking on stances that are too extreme
for most average adults to get behind. PETA, for example, calls
for veganism, but most people are not going to go vegan any
time soon. Nor would most people endorse many animal-rights
advocates’ demand that all research on animals stop. You
write in your book of the middle ground that most people take,
and of the need to work out parameters for that middle ground
to take. What are your thoughts on this?
ANTHES: I don’t know that I’ve seen it losing its
voice. It seems like there s more interest now in animal rights,
in some ways, than there has ever been. But at the same time,
a lot of people don’t take these extreme positions. They’re
not vegans. And groups like PETA aren’t going to have
a lot of buy-in with general society, as a result. There is
a need for more nuanced positions and discussions. Most people
do care about animals, but they also want to see cures for cancer
and other diseases.
FUTURIST: NIH and other research institutions are trying to
reduce the use of animals in research. But maybe we won’t
be able to eliminate it altogether. What are your expectations?
ANTHES: There are, absolutely, people who are trying to replace
animals with computer models and simulations. I think there
are instances where we can replace animals in research, but
it’s hard to imagine that we can do everything that we
want to do without a biological system to do it.