This is an Editor’s Cut …
It’s 1984. Daze, step-sister to Jenny Guthrie (of Baby, Baby and The LabyrinthYear) is applying to art college. Wandering around the Trewin Studio Sculpture Garden, St Ives, she discovered Dr John Guthrie, Jenny’s Dad, and a well-known fertility specialist. Now read on … (and if you didn’t, read Part One of the Extract earlier on the blog …)
Seated in a cosy café in Penzance, cocoa and Chelsea buns before them, Daze wonders what else she might learn. From or about Jenny’s father, whom she hasn’t seen since they were about ten, though Jen and her birth sister have been to visit in the States.
‘Daze,’ he says, giving her a long look then cutting his bun precisely in two, ‘There in the garden in you long skirt with the button boots and the mittens, you reminded me of Maimie.’
Who? Daze thinks. ‘Singer, is she?’
‘Kid in a book. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Our grandma read it to us.’
‘Oh Rackham. I love his work. But I’ve never heard of her.’
‘It’s the …’
‘Yeah, lost look, innit? Jus’ fashion … So, we share the gene toolkit with the animals?’
‘Different models, same biochemical switches to turn the genes on and off.’
‘Cool. Same hammer and chisel, different sculpture. But that doesn’t explain how the different shapes -’ She frowns, and sips her chocolate. The windows of the café are steamed up, the two women behind the counter chatting with customers buying bread.
‘Environment’ your clue there, adaptation. And very slight variation makes a hell of a lot of difference to the animals.’ He counts them off on his fingers: ‘One, between species, and that’s fine. Two, between individuals – and that’s fine too. Three, when there is a mistake in the system – possibly in the toolkit’s functioning – say a heavier hammer or problem with the chisel’s edge – that’s when the problems arise.’
‘Maybe your animal won’t have the parts it’s meant to have properly formed, or formed but in the wrong places?’
‘Gross. So that’s how it happens … we found pictures in Caroline’s medical books…’
‘Jeez – she shouldn’t have kept them where you kids… ‘
‘Once we cut up a chrysalis to see how the caterpillar was getting on – with becoming a butterfly …’
John shakes his head, then grins, ‘Any more you want to know?’
‘What your actual work is?’
‘Well, we use a lot of mice and rats in our line of business, and to be able to produce a whole batch of mice who are exactly the same is becoming kinda necessary. So they’d react identically to identical stimuli?’
‘Any other use for cloning?’
‘Think about pandas. Then think IVF? You must know what that is?’ Daisy nods. ‘If we could extract some DNA from an endangered species, and then, somehow produce offspring by – well, by some method faster or bypassing sexual reproduction – by cloning – we could increase numbers so they can breed and re-enter the environment?’
‘And d’you think that’s possible? My boyfriend’s into saving rare species –‘ Daze sparkles with interest.
‘Actually, I’m working on human infertility,’ John says.
Daze tries something out on John. ‘Some people think we should let the environment alone so the animals can live proper lives. Humans have been on top for thousands of years, but take a really healthy dolphin, and a human with dementia. Which has a better quality of life? Should we sacrifice ourselves for them?’
‘You’ve read Singer, have you? Animal Liberation?’
‘Speciesism is wrong. I wouldn’t say we have to sacrifice ourselves but if somebody’s life isn’t worth living, then what’s the point? Someone who has Stephen Hawking’s disease but not his incredible brain? Can a person like that enjoy life? Or a person in a persistent coma?’
‘So – let the incredible intellect live – but if the ability to reason and communicate is lost – that kinda thing – then an animal has more intrinsic worth?’
‘I hear what you say.’
Crap frustrating answer: what is his line on this? ‘Suppose we could modify ourselves – would that be useful?’
In reply, he glances again at his watch. Bored now conversation’s shifted from admiration to discussion, Daze wonders, disappointed. Needs flattery: well, she wants interaction. ‘Sorry – gotta go – Daze, that should cover the check – nice talking with you – ‘
‘You make science interesting – my teachers never did that.’ Dose of admiration to finish up, whatever.
And he smiles, and plumps his business card down on the table. ‘Any time you want a vacation job – call me. I’ve some stuff going on in Colombia you might enjoy …’ He shrugs into his coat as he crosses the café towards the door.