Rabbyfish? Jellit? Art?
Opinion By: Greg Volk
If you're like me, then your knowledge of transgenic art is most likely limited. Transgenic art,
according to Eduardo Kac, professor of art and technology at the School of Art Institute of
Chicago, is "a new art form based on using genetic engineering to transfer natural or synthetic
genes to an organism, to create unique living beings." Kac's current opus, his "GFP" bunny,
was created with the lofty tenets of transgenic art in mind. Kac led a team of scientists to
construct his "GFP" bunny by splicing a gene taken from the jellyfish Aquea victoria into a
regular albino bunny rabbit.
When placed under special lighting, the "GFP" (green fluorescent protein) bunny lives up to
its name by glowing in the dark, much reminiscent of your favorite Glow Worm doll or
Halloween glow-stick. Obviously, the creation of any genetically engineered organism is
accompanied by an influx of the ethical issues consequently raised. It seems that our society is
becoming less and less concerned with the use of genetic engineering with animals when the
research provided has potential to save human lives. We have accepted using genetically
engineered animals in research in certain health fields such as cancer or substance addiction.
For the most part, however, we have rejected the notion of creating genetically engineered
animals solely to push the limits of the scientific envelope.
Kac's endeavors fall under a completely different category, one he calls "art." Kac defends the
validity of his glow-in-the-dark bunny by saying that it is unique and innovative art. The
GFP bunny, "Alba," is perhaps the biggest name in the world of genetically altered animals
since the birth of Dolly, the infamous Scottish cloned sheep.
With Dolly, some skeptics were concerned about creating life in such an artificial manner.
Conversely, some advocates were enthused about the possibilities the breakthrough in cloning
My question for Kac would not be whether creating Alba represents cruelty toward animals,
disrespect for life, or even if it was unethical. No, my question would be, "Do you really think
making a glow-in-the-dark bunny with jellyfish genes is art?"
I certainly don't think so. Now I'm no art critic, but I think Kac's furry fluorescent friend no
more represents art than did the slug one of my neighborhood friends spray-painted green in
the fourth grade.
I can see it now ... Alba, the GFP bunny, right next to Rodin's Thinker at the North Carolina
Museum of Art.
Alba is like something you'd see around here, only it should be at the North Carolina State
Fair right next to the world's fattest pig.
Kac attempts to elicit further support for his cause by saying that his project "starts with the
creation of a chimerical animal that does not exist in nature." But I'd like to think that things
are the way they are for a reason. Without getting too fundamental, God knew what he was
doing when he created the fish with gills, the serpents with no legs and the bunnies with no
glow-in-the-dark jellyfish genes.
Kac claims that Alba is completely healthy and doing as well as any normal rabbit (any normal
rabbit who doesn't glow in the dark, that is). Just think of the ridicule Alba must endure from
his peer rabbits. He won't even be able to play hide-and-go-seek at night. Kac has taken
something good and cute, a bunny, and something annoying, a jellyfish, and created something
pointless (yet admittedly still a little cute).
With the breakdown of family values in our society, many are worried what the future holds.
But the fact that our society gives a guy like Kac the means and opportunity to make a
glow-in-the-dark bunny scares me more than that.
Greg is so traumatized that he can no longer eat Trix cereal. Email him with comfort at
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