austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Besides you knew the job was dangerous when you took it

Overall I figure there's not a lot I have to worry about just because Hans Larsson of McGill University said he plans to attempt to create a dinosaur by genetically engineering a chicken. For one, McGill University is up in Canada, where it's too cold for chickens to migrate in winter, so he couldn't even start before spring when the hens return to Tim Horton's for new doughnut buds.

Also he's a Research Chair, so he must have sometime seen an unimaginably awful movie and noticed how after the genetic engineering experiment finishes eating the lawyer or accountant it makes the person in charge of sciencey stuff feel really, really guilty. He probably frets about being made to feel really, really guilty. Also I think he just wants to show it can be done. If he doesn't have to actually do it, great, because then I can report how I can genetically engineer a chicken into a dinosaur. I can't tell you how but I can probably tell you how I would, which would start with a lot of dinosaur and use the chicken as a cheat sheet.

Larsson's idea is there's part of the chicken genetic code that come from after there were dinosaurs So you tell a chicken embryo to ignore all the post-dinosaur codes, and if the embryo goes along with you what comes out with is a chicken-based dinosaur. That sounds better than my idea, so I'd like to change my answer about how I'd do it. I notice I talk about how I do it, but I really think you should do it, and I think you'd agree someone else should definitely do it, before being eaten.

I'm not exactly sure how you tell embryos to ignore parts of the genetic code. I get hung up thinking of the conversation. ``Hey, you over there, do you mind not contributing anything to this organism?'' ``Aw, but I've got this great little bit about acetylcholinesterase inhibitors all ready to go!'' ``I know, but I'll owe you a big favor if you skip this one, OK?'' ``All right, but I'm coming back with a trace mineral dependency that's gonna knock your socks off.''

Still, the genetic code does plenty of stuff where it just ignores what's in it, so why not skip the post-Cretaceous stuff too? All it does is produce a little more stuff called ``junk DNA'' in the hope we'll drive future geneticists and pedants crazy. That's kind of a longer-term plan, but the more DNA we can call ``junk'' because we don't use it the more we can say we only actually use ten percent of our genetic material, and give vague hints about how if we just applied ourselves more we could do cool stuff like shed gecko tails we didn't even grow and certainly aren't going to pick up. Think of the irritation geneticists would feel in casual conversation whenever they had to correct it.

And then how about the possibility of digging out the hidden genes of other animals? Take an animal hanging around you, hypothetically, since I'd rather you weren't bitten or scratched. If you knew a few simple modifications at the right times would enable it to get into hour-long screaming matches over who's eaten all of the low-fat cheese slices, wouldn't you feel a deeper connection to the wonders of the Zanclean Age when these arguments were essential to survival?

And then there's information I got from the world's most reliable source of information, a Snapple bottle cap. You can't dispute that source's accuracy, even if it's the peach flavor and you don't like peach because the peach-ness is exactly identified. According to the cap, beavers were once the size of bears, suggesting there's a potential for hugeness in beavers not currently being tapped. Surely a world with dinosaur chickens facing giant beavers in Canada is worth seeing, even if we were hallucinating it. Unless the cap means it the other way, and bears only have the potential to be a lot smaller instead. Whoever's working on the beaver-bear equilibrium program should check that before serious work gets underway.

Trivia: Three nuclear bomb tests of the late 1960s and early 70s, intended to fracture rocks and so release natural gas, were code-named Gasbuggy, Rulison, and Rio Blanco. Source: Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking, Charles Seife.

Currently Reading: Nanocosm: Nanotechnology and the Big Changes Coming from the Inconceivably Small, William Illsey Atkinson. Wow, I think it's going for a marginally relevant pop cultural allusion on every page.

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