Author: William Torphy
“You’re messing with nature.” Dean’s tone is vehement. His green eyes flash. “Haven’t we done enough of that already?”
“Of course I’m messing with nature,” she replies. “Nature is screwed. Only intelligent interference can rescue it.”
“Someday, Catherine, this obsession is going to bite you in the hand.”
Dean Chalmers is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science. He’s generally easy-going and docile, but lately, he’s grown critical toward her, his objections conventional and tiresome.
Dr. Catherine Traylor is the pre-eminent champion of De-Extinction Science. She is a cheerleader among DNA scientists who makes the practice look sexy. Photographs of her—long, dark hair framing an attractive face with high cheekbones—crop up everywhere, from the pages of scientific journals to HotScienceChicks.com. Traylor teaches biophysics at a state university where she spends most of her time in the school’s biotechnology lab, developing DNA cocktails that promise to drive defunct herds out of extinction directly into the global marketplace. A pet food corporation provides the university with a large research grant in the expectation of reaping financial rewards from her findings.
Dean laughs through his thick red beard. “You have to admit, Cath, that you’ve come up with some pretty strange objects so far. Wingless passenger pigeons, a hairless wooly mammoth, a three-legged dodo.”
The last wasn’t hers, and she angrily pulls away. He doesn’t understand. Her work promises to bring a host of species back from oblivion. But De-Extinction Science is technically exacting, involving a complex process of extracting DNA molecules from fossil remains of the extinct specimen, isolating and identifying its genetic sequences in order to recreate a living form.
Not that Dr. Traylor isn’t used to skeptics. She preaches to dubious peers at scientific conferences and frequently encounters questions about “ethics” and “morality, which she deftly avoids answering by extolling the value of “a more diverse environment.” But her work has ignited the public’s imagination: TV executives slaver over the possibility of a ‘Weird Nature’ series, children fantasize about pet dinosaurs running around their back yards and their parents envision amazing Instagram photo opportunities.
The big break-through arrives when her overworked graduate assistants sequence a femur bone that was recently found by paleontologists in Nova Scotia, the remains of a dog-like animal that once proliferated but mysteriously disappeared around 1200 BCE. When its DNA patterning is successfully completed, Dr. Traylor proclaims it a perfect candidate for extinction reversal.
She tells the news to Dean one night in bed after a rather pallid sexual episode.
“I’ve found a wild dog.” Her face is flushed with excitement. He knows she couldn’t be referring to him.
“A three thousand year-old specimen. We’re bringing it back.”
“That’s great, Cath. If you don’t get the Nobel Prize, there are plenty of ribbons you could win at dog shows.”
She lurches to the other side of the bed, tired of his sarcasm
“Just kidding, my love.” He hugs her, nuzzling his ginger beard against her neck. “I need you really badly right now. Woof-woof.”
But she has other plans in mind, breaking up with him the next morning via interdepartmental email. She’ll then begin the work of sequencing genes gathered from a wineglass left on the coffee table, from hairs in the bathroom sink, and fingernail cuttings she’s managed to gather.
She issues very specific orders to her grad assistants: “The species was feral, of course, but we’ll regulate the Y-chromosome toward domestication.” Then, as if an afterthought, she says: “And we’re adding a new sequence to the mix. Genes for green eyes and a reddish coat.”
One assistant raises objections: “You’re asking us to compromise our protocols. I thought that we were legally constrained for revivification only, not alteration.”
She glares at him dismissively, making a mental note to downgrade his next performance report. “We need to stimulate radically adoptive evolution. Our sponsor is looking for a major breakthrough. If we don’t deliver, this lab will be shut down and all of you will go back to dissecting frogs.”
* * *
Canis docilis far exceeds even Traylor’s expectations. Luxurious soft auburn hair replaces his aboriginal mangy coat and beardlike ginger-colored strands sprout around its muzzle. The French female lab assistant exclaims with appreciation at the specimen’s wiry muscularity, calling him “tres sportif,” The cur still requires domestication, however, and a cadre of trainers and animal psychologists descend on the lab to administer behavioral modification. The research team especially enjoys tossing balls into difficult spaces and watching the clever way he retrieves them. Within a few months, the canis has grown remarkably docilis.
A press conference is finally called, sponsored by Pets-R-Us, which owns the formulation patent and rights of reproduction. Traylor stands before a phalanx of the media and triumphantly announces the results of her research: “This marks a great advance in DNA science that truly brings real world results. I have the honor and privilege of introducing Canis Docilis!”
Emerging on all fours from behind a curtain, the creature resembles a strange cross between a dog and a man. Its green eyes flash from a luxurious coat of red hair. Upon command, he trots over to Traylor, who rewards him with a Pets-R-Us Protein Puppy Scone.
The assembled reporters applaud and fall all over themselves to get a closer look, snapping pictures, and shooting questions.
“Have you chosen a name for him yet, Doctor Traylor?” one of them asks.
“Yes. His name is Dean.”