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Sue the T-Rex invoked Godzilla/JP/DNA article



the 12/1/97 www.suck.com article

Monster Mash 

The Field Museum of Chicago recently paid more than 7 million dollars for the 
fossilized
skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex named Sue, a small price tag for neutralizing 
the dual threats
of would-be buyer Nathan 
Myrhvold and potential stomper Godzilla. Since dinosaurs fascinate most people 
over the age of
two, it's not too surprising that these ancient remains are now unburied 
treasures. But in the
past, the dinosaur images that made the earth tremble - from flesh-ripping 
caveman-killers to
idiot purple endomorphs - owed 
more to marketers than paleontologists. Then along came the billion-dollar 
Jurassic Park
franchise. Its theorizing about the terrible lizards (or is that birds?) 
might've neither
crawled nor flown past peer review, but its influence unearthed a groundswell 
of mass appeal for
bare bones. 

And suddenly, academics, porn starlets, and attentive schoolchildren alike were 
united in their
refrain of "it's not the size, but what's inside that counts." DNA, in a rare 
instance of a
scientific entity penetrating the pop culture miasma, emerged not as a bit 
player but the
unlikely co-star of the Jurassic junta. Thanks to Crichton and Spielberg, 
additional blips of
molecular biology like "polymerase chain reaction" and "introns" started 
popping up at the
collective cocktail party, along with old standards like "clone" and 
"recombinant." An educated
American adult can now better explain how one might reconstruct the chromosome 
of an allosaurus
than, for example, why it gets cold in the winter. 

It's difficult to explain what intrigues us so much about genes. Crichton's 
slight morality tale
about tinkering with nature, kept from being so didactic that it would scare 
away customers,
missed the point anyway. We aren't afraid of spawning nightmare creatures, any 
more than we fear
killing ourselves through the rabid gormandizing of Marlboro reds, Johnny 
Walker, and
Jack-in-the-Box Chili Cheese Curly Fries. The source of our interest and vague 
unease is more
likely a function of our ambivalence toward the array of stupid genome tricks, 
and the
associated ethical fine-tuning. 

For instance, we really like the middle-tech imprecision of fertility therapy, 
to the point of
celebrating those who succeed in producing ever-larger litters of genetically 
similar children
(will Diane Sawyer abandon her annual trip to the Dilley sextuplets now that 
the McCaughey
family managed seven?). But cloning, which might achieve nearly the same ends, 
is objectionable.
The infamous Dolly sheep-cloning episode provoked fits of denial and 
litigiousness; but nobody
was too bothered by the real purpose of carbon-copy transgenic animals, which 
is to serve as
hormone factories for the pharmaceutical industry. Similarly, repairing genes 
in an individual
to cure disease is OK; but tweaking the germ-line, which makes genetic changes 
that can be
passed on to offspring, conjures images of a Gattaca-like future. Apparently 
we're a bit worried
about our individuality, but few can muster a Rifkinesque outrage about biotech 
in general. 

The recent contemplation of our genes is probably a remnant of the concern with 
viruses that
began in the 1980s. But HIV, its relationship to sex, and its exploitation of 
our genetic
material beg to be pondered metaphorically. Although smug would-be eugenicists 
often try to cast
the genetic code as a symbol of fate - the hand that we're dealt, as it were - 
it makes most
people uncomfortable to let the genotype code for anything more than the 
phenotype. An
indication of the prevailing attitudes can be seen when genetics encounters the 
law. DNA
sequences in criminal trials are seen as incontrovertible evidence of a 
person's presence at the
crime scene (barring tampering), but frequently fail as proof of guilt. In 
Oregon, laws passed
to prevent the abuse of genetic information by insurance companies and the like 
make the genome
the private property of the individual. The message is something like this: DNA 
is our body, not
our soul. 

The upside to this is that we have less of a problem selling our bodies. Once 
the Human Genome
Project has completed its task, we'll all have a basis for assessing our 
genetic uniqueness and
profiting from it like supermodels and professional athletes, bartering our 
best features for
those of others or an equivalent cash payment. If you think selling your genes 
sounds even more
outrageous than reaping a fortune from a pile of bones found on the back 40, 
you're probably
right: By the time you get a chance to plot your dig, some biotech company will 
probably already
have patented your subterraneum jackpot. But with a little luck, you might 
still hold the movie
rights. 

courtesy of Dilettante