Is it possible that we can actually create our own Mockingjays?
The New York Times explores the possibility of this happening in this interesting article.
Setting aside whether jays could actually breed with mockingbirds — this is a kind of fairy tale, after all — the choice of species rings true. Jays, along with crows and ravens, belong to a highly intelligent group of birds called the corvids. And jays are naturally thieves and spies, keeping track of where other jays hide food, for example, to raid it later. Mockingbirds, of course, have a fantastic ability to mimic other birds’ songs. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Thomas Jefferson, a lover of both birds and liberty, kept a pet mockingbird in the White House.
I asked Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist and science fiction writer at Kenyon College in Ohio, about her take on the mockingjay. Dr. Slonczewski, whose recent books include a text and a novel, “The Highest Frontier,” teaches a course called “Biology in Science Fiction.” The tools needed to modify organisms are already widely dispersed in industry and beyond. “Now anybody can do a start-up,” she said.
That’s no exaggeration. Do-it-yourself biology is growing. The technology to copy pieces of DNA can be bought on eBay for a few hundred dollars, as Carl Zimmer reported in The New York Times in March. As to where D.I.Y. biology may lead, Freeman Dyson, a thinker at the Institute for Advanced Study known for his provocative ideas, presented one view in 2007 in The New York Review of Books. He envisioned the tools of biotechnology spreading to everyone, including pet breeders and children, and leading to “an explosion of diversity of new living creatures.”
Eventually, he wrote, the mixing of genes by humans will initiate a new stage in evolution. Along the way, if he is right, the world may have more than its share of do-it-yourself mockingjays.
You can visit The New York Times for the full article.
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