Chimeras were ancient legendary mixed creatures. I think it’s such a powerful image for me because I imagine being a chimera of all the influences that motivate me, including music, and science and Torah. How about you?
But here’s the thing: chimeras are real, legend no more. I am engaged in a conference in Genetics this week run by the DNA learning center (Cold Spring Harbor labs). It’s been 30 years since grad school, and I really needed this update in biotech and newer revelations. Science is cold hard facts, right? Not so much! This conference reinforces for me what I know: Its brilliant deductions, philosophy and insights can blast minds open to layers of reality that were previously invisible. These insights relate to our health, our sustainability, they can predict problems, or solutions, can be tools or weapons. Perhaps it is scientists who are most like the Levites in this week’s Torah reading who proclaimed on mountaintops the amazing blessings if the Israelites did the right thing, and horrific curses if they didn’t. The blessings and curses of this portion capture me, they are the stuff of our dreams and nightmares, and everywhere in this world there are people suffering simultaneously with those joyful. Our world is a mix, a little like a chimera.
And that brings us to modern genetics. With its tools, we are creating chimeras, mixes of creatures’ genes that have never existed before. With these chimeras, genetically modified bacteria make human insulin, sheep make cystic fibrosis treatments in their milk, pigs grow organs for human transplant (potentially), cats glow with a jellyfish protein (as a tag to see if they’ve taken up the HIV fighting gene). It’s amazing!
But scientists warn us that danger is lurking. The instructor, Bruce Nash, of Cold Spring Harbor, a brilliant and funny guy, an inspired educator, http://www.dnalc.org/about/staff/nash.html is studying bee genomes, because we’re in real danger of losing the creatures that pollinate our food to the ravages of pestiicides. We have no alternatives to honey bees, and they’re dying. Many Genetically Modified organisms are developed to clean up pollution, which is best avoided in the first place. In this week’s labs we worked on DNA barcoding plants in a vanishing habitat. Species are being lost at a rate unrivaled since the time of the great dinosaur extinction, 1/3 of all life forms are threatened, which impoverishes and threatens us! Bruce keeps saying these techniques are powerful, and they are, but I feel that few people are paying attention, too busy with their narrow paths.
Be quiet and listen! screams Moses to the Israelites. Too much noise seems to be drowning out important messages. Science gives us amazingly powerful tools and advice. How do deal with them. Perhaps with humility and open ears as Moses and the Levites suggest, can help us bring more blessings to this complex and beautiful, dangerous, tortured, inspiring world. It’s a chimera.