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GMOs as chimaeric archives

By Jon Agar, on 22 November 2013

I was reading an otherwise very dry and sober account of different definitions of rarity of organisms, written in 1984, and was struck by this odd aside:

Indeed a time can be foreseen when genetic engineering will allow huge numbers of valuable genes to be stored as part of a composite living organism, an animal with multiple features from many species or a vast polyploid plant bearing a hundred different flowers and fruits from its branches.1

The bizarre idea seems to be that in a world of disappearing species, genetic diversity could be archived by combining them in the body of a single organism.

It’s a fantasy of a universal genetic chimaera. It brings up pictures to mind of a monster with the claws of a Siberian tiger, the strength of a mountain gorilla and the carapace of a sea turtle. An animal or plant Frankenstein made to blunt extinction. An Ark made flesh. An Ark of living wood.

I was wondering whether anyone knew of similar or related concepts? Perhaps in science, but maybe more likely from science fiction? It would be fascinating to know whether this suggestion was a single flash of the imagination or whether it has counterparts, a history or a context. If this rings any bells, then please leave a comment below.


1. Paul Munton, ‘Concepts of threat to the survival of species used in Red Data Books and similar compilations’, in Richard and Maisie Fitter (eds.), The Road to Extinction: Problems of Categorizing the Status of Taxa Threatened with Extinction, Gland: IUCN, 1987, pp. 71-88, pp. 87-88.





4 Responses to “GMOs as chimaeric archives”

  • 1
    Gabriel Finkelstein wrote on 22 November 2013:

    In his essay “Science and Fine Art” (1890), Emil du Bois-Reymond attacked on anatomical grounds figures of angels and winged horses. Artists who understood anatomy and the vertebrate archetype would never paint these “true monsters.”

  • 2
    Jon E Agar wrote on 22 November 2013:

    Nice. I’ve heard the sentiment before but not the source.

  • 3
    Jon E Agar wrote on 22 November 2013:

    Suggestions via twitter: Richard Fletcher @dragz is reminded of Margaret Attwood’s Oryx and Crake. Angela Cassidy @ange_cass suggests the work of Octavia Butler.

    Brian Balmer and Sara Peres have noticed the resemblance to seed bank projects.

    There’s also the crinoid monster from Dr Who’s ‘Seeds of Doom’ (1976)!

  • 4
    Jon E Agar wrote on 22 November 2013:

    Carole Reeves remembers this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2437247/250-varieties-apple-tree–thanks-bit-hard-grafting-years.html

    It’s the real multiple chimaeric thing, in apple form.