Transgenics in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake
Department of English, MEOFL
HNBGU Srinagar Garhwal
Abstract: Oryx and Crake details about many experiments which are still in human mind. It looks like a prediction of future where science will do such advancement to create everything. Developments aren’t bad but to disturb natural ecology for science will affect us badly. Atwood gives us a hint of those consequences in her novel. The BlissPluss Pill project which was done by the brilliant and intelligent Crake became the reason of pandemic. This too much technology eventually lead all the characters to death. Well, transgenesis has been a major theme in the novel. Pigoon is obviously the first and most talked about in the entire trilogy. Several other experiments are also done at the campus of OrganInc, Nooskin and Watson-crick through transgenesis. All of them has a major role in the plot. They here and there help the plot to proceed. Also, some of them have an impact on the main character, Jimmy aka Snowman.
Keywords: Anthropocentric, Genetic alteration, Technology, Mutation, Ecology, Transplantation
Research Summary: Transgenics came as a revolution to our world. in the late 1970s there happened some experiments with genetic engineering and termed as transgenics. It opened several doors for scientists to a new world. It is still developing and there are many corners which are still untouched. In the novel Oryx and Crake writer introduces a number of creatures who are created through genetic modification and splicing. The main protagonist Jimmy has raised amongst such creatures. The novel presents a picture of how circumstances change for Jimmy after pandemic. There is extra focus on ‘pigoons’ who were likeable when jimmy was just a boy but the same cute creatures turned into monsters in the later part of the novel. This paper accounts the detail of those creatures and just keep it straight that human brain is a blessing. It may invent a hundred things to make the life comfortable but the condition should be that it must be aware of its limits.
Transgenesis is a mode of experimentation involving insertion of a foreign gene into the genome of an organism, followed by germ-line transmission of a gene and analysis of the resulting phenotype in the progeny. Transgenesis can be used to induce the expression of an exogenous gene of interest. Alternatively, gene targeting can be used to interrupt the sequence (“knockout”) of a specific endogenous gene.1
Transgenesis is an extremely powerful tool for the genetic analysis and manipulation of mice and other animals. As defined above, a transgene is an experimentally introduced DNA segment carried in the genome of a host animal. A transgene can be designed to encode a new gene product in the transgenic animal, or it can be introduced with the intent of altering or disrupting a host gene at its site of insertion. In many cases, a transgene will do both, for example, disrupt an endogenous gene while expressing a new gene product. Thus, the application of transgenesis take advantage of its ability to induce both loss-of-function and gain-of-function genetic alterations.2
“Transgenesis can be defined as the uncontrolled transfer of foreign DNA into the germline of an animal species. Transgenesis became possible only after significant advances were made in the understanding of developmental, reproductive, and molecular biologic principles of the mammalian genome.”3 These definitions put enough light on what transgenics is and how it is done. It is a way through which we can try creating a creature of our own desire. Nowadays crops, insects etc. are tailored using genetic experimentations. Such is done to find a better entity which may adapt in various circumstances and of some use for humans. As almost the researches are anthropocentric so there is always an angle of benefiting the human species. Transgenesis is regarded as a positive step by many but everything comes with some adverse effect as well. The biggest challenge is that many of the biologists see it as a process that support interference to the naturals, to originals.
Oryx and Crake is the first part of MaddAddam trilogy written by Margaret Atwood. It gives a lot of preference to the transgenic projects going inside the compound life where the main character Jimmy aka snowman grows up. Crake is one of the protagonists. He is also raised in compound, gets his higher education from an institution which is engaged in such experiments only. Later he develops a species who is perfect according to him. He is the one who invents the BlyssPluss pill too. Pigoon, rakunk, snat etc. are the names reader come across in the novel. We will further read about the attributes of such creatures in length.
Pigoon: this word is used throughout the work and other parts of the trilogy. Pigoons were the major project on which OrganInc farms people were working on. Farm had invested lots of money on this project. Pigoon was a host body for those people who were looking for kidney, liver or heart to replace. Earlier pigoons could provide one or two organs but Jimmy’s father and his team was working on that technique through which a pigoon could provide more than four organs at a time. The body of pigoon was properly vaccinated so that it remained immune to harmful microbes and viruses. Many people need organs when their own stops working for some reason. They have to suffer and search. OrganInc was solution for such people, they wouldn’t have to run and contact many. They could simply go to OrganInc during those crucial hours. The advantage of such project was that even you extract all the extra organs from the body of pigoon, they will grow new one. “Pigoon organs could be customized, using cells from individual human donor, and the organs were frozen until needed.”4
Jimmy on seeing pigoons felt pity on them because they were caged in a small pen; it was inadequate as compared to their large numbers. They were “bigger and fatter than the ordinary pigs”5 due to extra organs inside them. They were kept under high safety walls to keep their genetic composition secure from rival groups. Everyone had to wear biosuits and face mask inside the pens. Washing hands with disinfectant soap or putting a sanitizer was also a compulsory step. Jimmy liked small pigoons, pigoonlets because the adults were frightening. Pigoons had an entirely different situation during Jimmy’s childhood. There used to be twelve in a single row in the pen. They couldn’t roam freely and watching them in such conditions used to make Jimmy sensitive about them. He was even uncomfortable while eating in that restaurant with Ramona and his father. When everyone around him was eating he asks his father if he go and see the pigoons because “He didn’t want to eat a pigoon, because he thought of the pigoons as creatures much like himself. Neither he nor they had a lot of say in what was going on.”6 The narrative presents two images which are almost same but the viewpoint of the two totally varies. Jimmy watching pigoons at OrganInc farm is totally different from Snowman watching pigoons at Paradice compound. Being Jimmy he was gazing at them, adoring their pink eyes, runny nose etc. Snowman at Paradice compound is running to save his life from them, he doesn’t find them cute nor does he want to touch them. He is running to save his life. Those cute faces have disappeared somewhere. They are changed into something who wants to tear him up into pieces:
They have something in mind, all right. He turns, heads back towards the gatehouse, quickens his pace. They’re far enough away so he can run if he has to. He looks over his shoulder: they’re trotting now. He speeds up, breaks into a jog. Then he spots another group through the gateway up ahead, eight or nine of them, coming towards him across No Man’s Land. They’re almost at the main gate, cutting him off in that direction. It’s as if they’ve had it planned, between the two groups; as if they’ve known for some time that he was in the gatehouse and have been waiting for him to come out, far enough out so they can surround him.7
Two images teach us that sometime our own creation can become a nuisance for us. Science is a boon if used carefully but it can also bring hazardous impacts. We must check our technological development time to time because if we over do something then there is probability that the same invention which we are creating for a comfortable life may haunt us with its negative impacts. At NooSkins, pigoons were small sized and instead of multi organ business they were used to develop skin related biotechnologies. Its aim was to develop a skin which would be wrinkle and blemish free. It was different from laser thinned or other artificial dermatological technologies. People could get a genuine skin through this technique. It challenged the concept of ageing which is natural to living-beings. Everyone wants to look young but to stay young forever is to go against nature, it would disturb the whole life cycle at earth. It was exactly what Sharon was telling Jimmy’s father: “what you’re doing_this pig brain thing. You’re interfering with the building blocks of life. It’s immoral. It’s sacrilegious” 8
Rakunk: it is one of the animals reader comes across throughout the novel. Jimmy is dearly attached with a pet rakunk gifted by his father. Name of this creature was Killer. This is ironical that Snowman remembers every detail of rakunk but not of the person who gifted it. It was the progeny of the first pair that had been spliced. “It was a tiny one, smallest of the litter born from the second generation of rakunks, the offspring of the first pair that had been spliced. The rest of the litter had been snapped up immediately.”9 Jimmy’s father described that he had to put a lot of efforts to get Killer. The efforts were worthwhile because it was Jimmy’s birthday. It was black and white in color and tiny in size. The creation of rakunk was also done in OrganInc biolabs. From Snowman’s memory slot we are told:
There’d been a lot of fooling around in those days: create_an_animal was so much fun, said the guys doing it; it made you feel like God A number of the experiments were destroyed because they were too dangerous to have around – who needed a cane toad with a prehensile tail like a chameleon’s that might climb in through the bathroom window and blind you while you were brushing your teeth? Then there was the snat, an unfortunate blend of snake and rat: they’d had to get rid of those. But the rakunks caught on as pets, inside OrganInc. They hadn’t come in from the outside world – the world outside the Compound – so they had no foreign microbes and were safe for the pigoons. In addition to which they were cute.10
It had a fluffy tail and Jimmy was so happy to found it that he even used to take it to school. Rakunks’s description shows that it was friendly to humans. Jimmy talked, kissed and slept with it on the same bed. The animals was made up with the splicing of raccoon and a skunk but it neither had a smell of a skunk nor was it a bad pet like raccoons. Raccoons are difficult to handle once grown up they do a lot of destruction inside the house. This hybrid was a quiet and clean animal. Bandit was the name Jimmy’s father had suggested but it was Jimmy who named it as ‘Killer’. He took the responsibility of Killer from food to cleaning her excreta. She had brown head, pink nails and soft black-white strips of fur all over her body. She was Jimmy’s secret best friend, one he could trust on with his confidential gossips. He would ask her several questions and then answer on her behalf: “Was that out of line, Killer?” he would ask. “Was that too vile?” Vile was a word he’d recently discovered: Righteous Mom was using it a lot these days. Killer would lick his nose. She always forgave him.” 11
After a while Jimmy’s mother, Sharon left them. She didn’t go alone but took killer with herself; it left Jimmy angry and sad because both the creatures were close to his heart. He could never forget and replace both of them.
P.S., she’d said. I have taken Killer with me to liberate her, as I know she will be happier living a wild, free life in the forest.
Jimmy hadn’t believed that either. He was enraged by it. How dare she? Killer was his! And Killer was a tame animal, she’d be helpless on her own, she wouldn’t know how to fend for herself, everything hungry would tear her into furry black and white pieces. But Jimmy’s mother and her ilk must have been right, thinks Snowman, and Killer and the other liberated rakunks must have been able to cope just fine, or how else to account for the annoyingly large population of them now infesting this neck of the woods?
Jimmy had mourned for weeks. No, for months. Which one of them was he mourning the most? His mother, or an altered skunk? 12
The last chapter tells us how affected he is to see the sight where a rakunk is burned by three humans. Genetic engineers are doing such experiments to quench their thirst of invention and sometimes for the need of the world. Pigoon was still a useful experiment but there is not much evidence that may tell why rakunk was necessary to make. Everything in the ecosystem has a function to do, everything has a role and it shouldn’t be altered just because humans are uncomfortable with it. Biodiversity is the must for ecology and to earth. All the creatures are the part of a family and we all should adjust and adapt according to other members of it. As human is considered more intelligent than others so it is our duty to keep everyone safe. Always!
Wolvogs: in the BioDefenses department Jimmy found a series of cages, inside every cage a dog was kept. They weren’t equal but of different size and colors, their tail was wagging in a friendly manner. Before Jimmy could pat them Crake warned him, “They aren’t dogs, they just look like dogs. They’re wolvogs – they’re bred to deceive. Reach out to pat them, they’ll take your hand off. There’s a large pit-bull component.”13 He asked Jimmy to stay away as far as possible and not to touch the barriers. Jimmy had a deep desire to tame an animal for so long after Killer’s departure he had lost all the hopes of having a pet. He was happy to see them but he wanted to go away from such environment as it reminded him of his past. “The truth was that all this was too reminiscent. The labs, the peculiar bioforms, the socially spastic scientists – they were too much like his former life, his life as a child. Which was the last place he wanted to go back to”.14
On seeing such friendly animals he asked Crake, if they are for sale? Crake explained him that they weren’t dogs, they were wolvogs. The name suggests that they had qualities of wolves and dogs in one body. Crake told Jimmy that the animals were ferocious and wild in nature, they wouldn’t friendly either. They were created on the demand of CorpSeCorps to catch criminals. It was very risky for humans to unlock them as they could cut down into pieces. In later chapter Snowman carries a gun to protect himself from wolvogs, he even shoot some. His fear towards both the animals be it pigoon or wolvogs is quite visible in some chapters. In one of the scene he is talking to himself, “That’s the worst thing about wolvogs: they still look like dogs, still behave like dogs, pricking up their ears, making playful puppy leaps and bounces, wagging their tails. They’ll sucker you in, then go for you.”15 In the same chapter reader is told that only one thing can be done to protect someone from wolvogs and that is climbing on a tree. Snowman does this because
“Wolvogs can’t climb trees, which is one good thing. If they get numerous enough and too persistent, he’ll have to start swinging from vine to vine, like Tarzan. That’s a funny idea, so he laughs. “All you want is my body!” he yells at them. Then he drains the bottle and throws it down. There’s a yelp, a scuttling: they still respect missiles. But how long can that last? They’re smart; very soon they’ll sense his vulnerability, start hunting him. Once they begin he’ll never be able to go anywhere, or anywhere without trees. All they’ll have to do is get him out in the open, encircle him, close in for the kill. There’s only so much you can do with stones and pointed sticks. He really needs to find another spraygun.” 16
Even in the chapter Wovogs, Jimmy gives hint of the apprehensions of some biologists. He while going through that portion have a conversation about wolvogs. He doesn’t utter it out but he contemplates it in his mind: “Why is it he feels some line has been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far? 17
Crakers: were designed on the same model with some alterations. Crake had removed those destructive features which according to them were responsible for all the problems. He tried to make them a perfect human. Racism( referred as ‘pseudospeciation’18 in Paradice), hierarchy, territoriality etc. were removed from their system. Nuptial bonds, divorces weren’t programmed and they were created to adapt according to their habitat. They don’t need to build houses for any weather condition. “They would have no need to invent any harmful symbolisms, such as kingdoms, icons, gods or money. Best of all, they recycled their own excrement.”19
When Crake let Jimmy to see his creation for the first time Jimmy couldn’t believe it. “That was his first view of the Crakers. They were naked, but not like the Noodie News: there was no self-consciousness, none at all. At first he couldn’t believe them, they were so beautiful. Black, yellow, white, brown, all available skin colours. Each individual was exquisite. “Are they robots, or what?” he said.” 20 Crake had done a lot of research before the production of crakers. His idea was to launch them publicly after a while. Everything was and he had even plans to customize and modify according to buyer’s choice. He was especially looking for vegan’s feedback on it. He believed people would like to have a good-looking, intelligent, green-eyed child who only survived on grass, “They ate nothing but leaves and grass and roots and a berry or two; thus their foods were plentiful and always available”.21 They could speak but they were programmed to trust on whatever said to them. They were also unfamiliar with the concept of clothes; it was another layer of skin for them. Crake named them after great personalities of all times like Abraham Lincoln, Madam Curie, Leonardo Da Vinchi and so on. They were programmed to follow instruction and not to ask questions. As novel progresses we see that they were showing those attributes they weren’t supposed to. They learnt chanting by the time Snowman returned from Paradice. They were asking numerous question and one of them had come out as a leader too. Work division was also happening among them. Crakers were manufactured to set an ideal world but they couldn’t remain as perfect as Crake wanted them to be. Eventually they adopted those things due to which humans are divided into different groups. The temptation leads to fall, Crakers also couldn’t help it.
Hence, the work is full of such experimentations but only Crakers are shows in a good light. Others after a point of time has become nuisance for the protagonist and other, if they are alive. Especially pigoons and wolvogs are no less than the hungry man-eaters who are running here and there in search of food in the post-pandemic times. Crakers can also not be described as a success as they too have adapted many of the practices which Crake hadn’t wished to install in them. Science is a great boon if used sensibly but it can also bring adverse effect as we have seen in World war 2nd. This novel can be seen as a lesson to humans for using science and transgenics in a proper, balanced way.
1 Gupta Ramesh C. (2011), Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology. Academic Press, US.
2 Maloy Stanley, Kelly Hughes. (2013) Brenner’s Encyclopedia of Genetics (second Edition). Academic Press, US.
3 Chien Kenneth R. (2004) Molecular Basis of Cardiovascular Disease (second Edition). Saunders.
4Atwood Margaret. (2004), Oryx and crake. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, pp. 15.
5 ibid, 20
6 ibid, 18
7 ibid, 222
8 ibid, 42
9 ibid, 36
10 ibid, 28
11 ibid, 45
12 ibid, 46
13 ibid, 172
14 ibid, 171
15 ibid, 87
16 ibid, 88
17 ibid, 172
18 ibid, 255
19 ibid, 256
20 ibid, 253
21 ibid, 256
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