The Lighter Side of Genetic Manipulation Nightmares

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

After Alba the fluorescent art rabbit was artificially engineered, and genetically modified zebra fish were cleared for sale to the general public, I began imagining various ways in which playing Frankenstein could bite us all in the collective ass. Vivid as it may be, my layman’s imagination has been no match for the professional efforts taking place inside globally dispersed laboratories; strategically located to best align with antiquated laws, corrupt government officials and/or an oblivious local population.

As a consequence, I … we … have been repeatedly blindsided by some exasperating headlines: the Ruakura “sane cow” vaccination backfire in Australia, the Black Gull 17 contagion in Europe, and the Three Pig Inc virus in North America come immediately to mind. However, I can only take so much bad news.

So, for the overly stressed among us who could use a little comedic relief, I thought I’d broach the lighter side of our recurring genetic manipulation nightmare; scientific efforts so lacking in basic common sense, the only sane response is to laugh. Nervously.

Among a growing portfolio of Abby Normal-style mistakes, some of my favorites include:

  • modifying the DNA of so-called “superworms” in an effort to more quickly detoxify contaminated soil in Southeast Asia, only to have the worms unofficially introduced to South Africa, where it was discovered that the double-sized crawlers prefer valuable mineral deposits to heavy metal industrial byproducts … and excrete their own unique form of toxic waste as a consequence.
  • biologically engineering a mosquito-borne vaccine delivery system – based upon the original “Flying Vaccinator” proof-of-concept program – which also inadvertently delivered a pheromone irresistible to all mosquitoes, thus facilitating the spread of other diseases.
  • introducing genetically modified HyperTasty™ catfish, which after a few generations of senseless in-breeding developed a toxin which permanently desensitized diners’ palates and subsequently bankrupted the major fast food chain which funded the research.

Most of you are probably familiar with those three, but today’s news includes a fresh genetic blunder which I think we can safely add to our dark humored portfolio: the genetically engineered Weed Nemesis™ lawn grass, which went on sale this past Spring and which will be on gallery walls by the Fall.

You might recall the Weed Nemesis™ brand, as there was a memorable marketing campaign during the last Masters Tournament. Weed Nemesis™ is the lawn product promoted in those curious, stop-motion animated “TurpH Battle” advertising spots; the ones where legions of teal-colored grass do battle with evil dandelions, bull thistles, and crabgrass’s while Genesis‘ “The Return of the Giant Hogweedplays majestically in the background.

Yes. That one.

Agricultural researchers reportedly took extraordinary measures when testing this mutant-militant grass to fully ensure it was safe for homeowners, children and their pets. And there’s no reason to believe it isn’t as safe as they claim it is. Not yet, anyway.

Just because Weed Nemesis™ unexpectedly emits a bio-luminescent glow after animals have repeatedly urinated on it is no cause for alarm. The plants in Avatar glowed and that wasn’t a problem for anyone. Scientists just never bothered to turn the lights off during testing, and as a consequence they just failed to notice this inexplicable photonic effect (which is usually a soft pink hue, but which can also be found in a variety of consumer-friendly colors).

Another round of tests overseen by bed-hopping, bribe-taking federal regulators will doubtlessly verify there’s no need for concern.

While we’re waiting for those test results, however, the company’s product is turning conservative American lawns into landscape mash-ups of Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings and Tillie the Terrier’s abstract scratch ‘n bite works. Rocking chair Realists are justifiably outraged.

The kicker: a Dribble Pink Lawns for Little Pink Houses show is scheduled at the Museum of Modern Art this Fall; pending approval of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Naturally.


Sven JohnsonSven Johnson is an unrooted freelance designer increasingly working at the intersection of tangible and virtual goods. His background is varied and includes a fair amount of travel, a pair of undergraduate degrees and a stint with the US military. He’s a passionate wannabe filmmaker, a once-upon-a-time underground comix creator, and – when facilities are available – an enthusiastic ceramicist who is currently attempting to assemble a transmedia, transreality open-source narrative in what remains of his lifetime.

[Future Imperfect header based on an image by Kaunokainen.]

6 thoughts on “The Lighter Side of Genetic Manipulation Nightmares”

  1. Listen. Right now everyone has access to seven thousand narcotic substances, with little or no downside. I have a dripper myself, inserting required agents in my bloodstream from a range of 48 neurostimulants to perfectly tweak my required mood. Technically still illegal, ignored by the authorities anywhere and everywhere. I certainly don’t care that it’s easier to cook up a vial of specific long chain molecules at 100% purity than it is to cook up a gallon of paint. Can anyone still recall prohibition? They used to think outlawing this could be enforced. Ok, granted, we lost 10% of the population when substance engineering became a garage pursuit – millions of people just died in a matter of months! We had to learn how to live in a world of narcochemical abundance and the transition sure was a darwinian ordeal…

    But on the bright side, medical industries and black markets disappeared. Colombian gangsters and pfizer, how much different were they? We now have wikified medicine, and we check for treatments online, and apply them ourselves.

    Physicians are now contracted to keep up healthy, rather than mop up infirmity. Proactive turned out to work so much better.

  2. Loving the bio-luminescent effect the Weed Nemesis has. :p Imagine, all across America; light-emitting lawns. Avatar for the masses!
    Great article! 😉

  3. I suspect what has some people concerned, khannea, is that most of that 10% were in developing countries. There are legit concerns, for example, that Ghana’s famous Homebrew Geneticists Club wasn’t comprised of locals but of American and Chinese expats using the unwitting population as test subjects. Financial ties between that group and some minerals extraction corporations are raising obvious questions. I mean, it’s a great investment: fund some radical genetics experiments on the cheap and hit it big with a product you can sell elsewhere, or kill off the locals and move in to take control of the abundant natural resources.

    The medical industries have been shaken, and the black market is less black, but in the end people have discovered – just as with the wide open direct digital fabrication market – that getting new product directly from reputable companies is safer than trusting someone who claims to have hacked into a secure company database and released the cure to everyone. You never know. It might be another Jack the Gripper. How many people died from that incident? Too many. All of them thinking they were getting something for nothing when it was just some psycho masquerading as Robin Hood with a cure.

  4. John, have you seen the satellite imagery? I know someone out there is trying to figure out the patterns. It may not be crop circles, but there has to be *some* reason a neighborhoods dogs all seem to be urinating on one lawn. Maybe they have some kind of smell communication system!

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