Tuesday, 16 April 2013

What's black and white and wrong all over?


A few weeks ago I heard a news item as I rode the number 42 over the King George IV Bridge, saying that Scots scientists are creating genetically modified chickens whose eggs could hatch into any number of birds:  ducks, blue tits, swans, hawks... Evidently there has already been a chicken fathered by a duck--which I can only think of as the bird world equivalent of Colonel Saunders fathering Heston Blumenthal.  Leaving aside the endless possibilities (would crossing a bustard with a turkey give you a thanksgiving bastard?),  it seemed particularly fitting that we should at that moment be passing the location of the Frankenstein pub, with all its associations with poor old Victor Frankenstein’s fatally flawed creation.  

Dr Frankenstein would no doubt have called himself a ‘natural philosopher’, which is what scientists who were fascinated with how the world and the universe works were called before physicists and 'The Big Bang Theory' were invented.  My old friend James Clerk Maxwell, he of the delightful statue at the end of George Street next to St Andrew’s Square, was a natural philosopher.  I can easily imagine James and Victor having a pint or two in the eponymous pub, sharing memories of being bullied in the schoolyard for having funny accents and being swots. 

I cannot help but wonder what the philosopher in James Clerk Maxwell would have made of the notion of designer poultry--condors springing from the loins of bantam cockerels, as it were.  No doubt Maxwell would worry about the consequences for the natural world:  what if it all goes wrong (as it did for Victor Frankenstein) and one ends up with eagles who can’t fly but feel compelled to crow every sunrise? Ducks who can’t swim and nightingales who sing like crows?  What would he think of the noble calling of science devoting itself to creating a world where a starlings are crossed with puffins in order to make ‘stuffins’?  Cross again with a chicken and a fulmar* and you get a Sunday roast that  bastes itself.  

I just hope nobody gets any clever ideas about those poor, apparently incompatible pandas who are failing, yet again, to take full advantage of the love tunnel in Edinburgh Zoo.  There is talk of artificial insemination.  I just hope they do not bring in the bird brains from the Roslin Institute...Postrich anybody?

*Fulmars produce a stomach oil that provided the islanders of St Kilda with oil for their lamps

1 comment:

  1. If ever you have been on the receiving end of a squirt from a Fulmar, you woud definitely NOT want to use the oil for basting!!!

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