OLD MACDONALD SPEAKS TO A GENETICIST

OLD MACDONALD: Do you want to buy some beef?

GENETICIST: If the beef is not tainted with mad cow, then I would be very much interested in purchasing your beef. However, as there have been a few recent outbreaks of this disease in North America, I think I will abstain for now.

OLD MACDONALD: What is mad cow?

GENETICIST: Mad cow is a term that refers to something known as bovine spongiform encephalitis, a curious infectious agent that is neither a virus nor a bacterium.

Despite this, it is still an infectious agent that can cause the brain of said infected cattle to turn into a sponge, which, in turn, ultimately leads to critical neurological damage and death. Worryingly, eating beef tainted with Mad Cow is thought to cause the same horrible disease in humans. Also note that for you as a farmer, any evidence of mad cow in your cattle, and your entire herd would need to be slaughtered.

OLD MACDONALD: That would not be good. I guess at least my sheep are safe.

GENETICIST: Well,.. yes and no. Sheep can also suffer from a similar ailment, although scrapies (as it is called) is much better controlled. However, this may all be irrelevant if your sheep are of the cloned variety.

OLD MACDONALD: The cloned variety? You mean like Dolly?

GENETICIST: Yes, like Dolly. You see, the DNA of cloned sheep is often damaged during the cloning process. Which really means that these poor creatures tend to die prematurely. Ironically, it’s a bit like slaughtering your herd, except that they happen to do it themselves.

OLD MACDONALD: This is also not good.

GENETICIST: No, it isn’t. Tell me, do you have pigs?

OLD MACDONALD: Why – do I have to slaughter them as well?

GENETICIST: Sort of. But not because of an infection or because of a premature aging.

OLD MACDONALD: I’m afraid to ask – but because of what?

GENETICIST: Because of their hearts, livers, kidneys, and other organs. Due to the similarity of their girth to humans, pigs are currently the animal of choice for organ harvesting. More specifically, this act of putting tissue from one species to another is known as xenotransplantation, and pig organs, under the right conditions, happen to represent an excellent candidate species for placing tissue into humans. I think it’s even entirely possible that this facet can be the next premise for a “Babe” movie. So yes, I suppose you might want to kill them off as well.

OLD MACDONALD: You can’t be serious.

GENETICIST: But I am. Perhaps we can call it, “Babe, Pig with the Heart of Gold,” or “Where the Heart is – It’s in the Pig’s Pericardial Cavity.” We could even get Dick Cheney to play the patient who needs the new heart.

OLD MACDONALD: You know, this is all very disturbing – I think I’m going to be sick.

GENETICIST: Oh dear. Are you also feeling feverish? Maybe you have Avian Flu Virus. Do you have chickens?

OLD MACDONALD: O.K. I think that’s enough. Can you go now?

GENETICIST: Because chickens can carry the Avian Flu Virus. Nasty virus. You may as well slaughter your chickens as well.

OLD MACDONALD: Seriously, can you go?

GENETICIST: But ducks, being asymptomatic carriers, are much much worse. They may play innocent and all, with a quack quack here, and a quack quack there. Here a quack, there a quack, everywhere a quack quack. But really my friend… evil personified.

OLD MACDONALD: Listen, I don’t even have ducks. Please leave me alone.

GENETICIST: Yes, yes, of course, of course. But can I at least first buy some corn from you? Although I should note that the GM variety is preferable, being not too fond of spots on my produce. Are they sweet? Crunchy? No matter. It is not really a concern of note. Truthfully, I am not that much of a cook anyway, as I am, sadly, only a geneticist.

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David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and boingboing.net. He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at popperfont.net.

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