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In Context #18 (Fall, 2007, pp. 7, 23); copyright 2007 by The Nature Institute

The Poorly Targeted Gene

As we were preparing to write an introduction to our "nontarget effects of genetic engineering" project, two articles came to our attention. One, appearing in the New York Review of Books (July 19, 2007) and written by the prominent physicist, Freeman Dyson, predicts a future of "user-friendly" genetic engineering kits. The first step, he says, has already occurred: genetically modified tropical fish with new and brilliant colors have appeared in pet stores. Still to come are do-it-yourself kits for gardeners to "breed" new roses and orchids, for animal lovers to create previously unknown varieties of pigeons, parrots, lizards, and snakes, not to mention dogs and cats. "Designing genomes," claims Dyson, "will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture." Then the final step in the "domestication of biotechnology" will be biotech games

designed like computer games for children down to kindergarten age but played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Playing such games, kids will acquire an intimate feeling for the organisms that they are growing. The winner could be the kid with the prickliest cactus, or the kid whose egg hatches the cutest dinosaur.

Freeman acknowledges that these games "will be messy and possibly dangerous," but he seems to