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on 30 July 2013
Anthes is a science writer and she is good at her trade, although she should avoid the occasional twee aside. In this book, she examines how scientists from a variety of disciplines seek to redesign and control animals. Their work ranges is from the frivolous (glow-in-dark fish) to the potentially life-saving drugs that can be secreted into goats' milk. Many of the interventions, such as prosthetics and tagging, are designed to help animals but there seem to be whole university departments inflicting pointless pain and indignity on them. Experimenting on primates and dogs is now seen as beyond the pale but rats and insects are fair game. The author doesn't shrink from looking at the ethical issues but does't offer her own opinions. Altogether, this is an interesting and informative book and unlike many writers of popular science, she actually went out and talked to the people she was writing about. She even went to visit a cloned cat which looked and behaved like any other moggie, so that experiment was presumably a success.
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on 28 July 2013
Very well written. Full of interesting new information about the facts and possibilities of gene modification. Sometimes the future looks a little frightening, but we should at least know about it.
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on 15 March 2013
Anthes takes a tour through the weird world of modified animals, be it via genetic engineering, cloning or robotics. We are coming on in leaps and bounds in what we can achieve with biotechnology and combining the electronics revolution with animals. Along the way Anthes raises ethical questions about whether we have the right to modify nature or if animals should have their own rights. There is a comprehensive set of notes if you want to explore more of the details she mentions. Anthes also gets to meet some of the movers and shakers in the fields she is investigating and also some of the animals, taking great delight to meet cloned cats and buys her own fluorescent fish. The possibilities for biotechnology are growing all the time and although Anthes makes clear that it is but a tool that can be used for good or ill you can't help but feel a little trepidation about how it could be used for ill at the same time as being excited about how it could be used for good. The recent news of modified and highly armed dolphins escaping, with shades of We3 by Grant Morrison [...] shows one possible nightmare scenario and can we be comfortable with remote controlled insects in the hands of governments pursuing a surveillance society strategy? At the same time it's exciting to see that experiments on paralysed rats may offer hope for people who have been paralysed through accidents or that animal prosthetics are finding uses in human prostheses and that there are some new exciting therapies for some brain diseases coming. Although reality is more prosaic than say oryx and crake or the windup girl we should be thinking hard about these issues and Anthes book is a great place to start. You can see Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic tail that Anthes spends some time with, here [...] and it is inspiring to see that Winter is used to help children who have lost a limb come to terms with that.

Overall - Anthes writes with great intelligence and enthusiasm on her subject and I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.
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on 27 May 2013
I love this book. Not only informative about a (reasonably) high brow subject but its easy to follow for us non-science types and has plenty of humour. Definitely recommend if you are interested or concerned about humanities ability to make judgement calls.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 August 2014
In my experience, more scientists like dogs than cats (a dangerous assertion, I admit), which is why, perhaps, a cat ended up on the receiving end of the most famous thought experiment in history, Schrödinger’s Cat. Although the cat in Emily Anthes’ title obviously owes its existence to its hypothetical quantum cousin, though, this isn’t a book about thought experiments, but the real things. From fluorescent fish to cyborg animals, this is the story of what we are really doing – or planning to do – to modify nature.

For me, Anthes gets the balance just right in the book (though that ‘Frankenstein’ in the title is totally misleading in this respect). There are real moral issues to be considered in what we do to animals for our own benefit, but provided we take animal welfare into account, there is really no reason why we shouldn’t modify animals for our purposes. After all, we’ve been doing it for millennia through selective breeding – this is just a matter of doing it much more quickly and effectively.

Anthes covers all sorts of possibilities, and is at her best when she’s dealing with the everyday life side of the experience. So, for instance, her opening story of the fluorescent Glo-fish (despite headlines beloved of tabloid editors, they don’t glow in the dark, they re-emit light at a different frequency) is totally fascinating in part because of the legal challenges faced by the entrepreneurs looking to bring the fish to market (something that still isn’t legal, for instance, in the EU).

Making pets more interesting to look at may be fairly trivial (though as Anthes points out, it is surely more humane to make happy, healthy glowing fish than it is to distort goldfish into weird shapes so they have pop-eyes, as selective breeders have done for years), but we also meet much more useful possibilities in pharming – animals that have been modified so, for instance, their milk contains medically important proteins. Inevitably some animal rights types will moan, but surely it’s easier to justify keeping goats to produce medicine (in a normal and pleasant enough goaty life) than keeping rabbits as pets in cages (for instance).

Then we get to the real heavy stuff – implants that turn animals into controllable devices. Here, rightly, the moral discussion comes very much to the fore. However, where the animals in questions are insects, as many of them are, most of us have relatively few qualms. I’d certainly rather an insect was wired up as a drone than was used for entertainment in I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here. Again, it’s the entrepreneurs that fascinate – specifically a pair that sell a ‘control your own cockroach’ kit to turn a cockroach into a remote controlled object and learn a bit about neuroscience along the way.

Just occasionally I found the interest levels dropping a bit, and the way the book is pitched is just a little too casual for me with not quite enough science. But this is a very important area that is not going to go away and that we all ought to be thinking about. The way we have handled GM crops has been disastrous, resulting in the pathetic scene of supposedly humanitarian organizations preventing the use of crops that could help millions of people survive. We need to do better with modified animals – and this book is a good eye opener on the possibilities and the debates we will face. Recommended.
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on 26 May 2013
Quite apart from the science taking place now, and the possibilities for future applications, the really interesting thing about this book is the questions it poses to the reader. For instance, Is it morally and ethically right to genetically engineer animals farmed for food to be more disease resistant, if this could be used as justification to keep them in crowded and less sanitary conditions? The author also raises the possibility of enhancing animal intelligence - (shades of David Brin's "Uplift" novels), and takes the reader into some real moral dilemmas. This book is at times fascinating, and at times a little depressing - (Chinese genetic experiments on mice was tough (especially on the mice!) - Thousands of mice bred with induced gene mutations, to see what happens, and cockroach surgery and mind control for amateur experimenters, to give two examples). An interesting and worthwhile read, both uplifting, and at times, depressing, but ALWAYS thought provoking!
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on 26 June 2013
This is a very a well-researched and academically-referenced book, yet Anthes style is approachable, humorous and engaging so she does not 'lose' the reader in jargonistic prose.
She presents a thorough discussion and balanced debate on the pros and cons of the biotechnological advances made thus far, and hazards and educated summation of where developments may take us in the future.
Really interesting subject matter and not in the least bit 'dry' - recommended.
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on 25 May 2013
I enjoyed this book. It removes some of the mystery from 'Genetic Engineering' without being a public relations campaign for the bio corporations.

Anybody who thinks they are against all GM products should read this. It may not change your mind but you will understand much more about the issues.
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on 2 September 2015
Interesting stuff in parts but to be honest I found some of it a bit boring and found myself skipping bits. Not quite as enthralling or shocking as I expected.
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on 22 June 2013
There are more things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in your
philosophy. How true can a book be?.
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