Saturday, March 8, 2014

Genpets, the 'Bioengineered Buddies' Coming to a Retailer Near You?

"I love you, nightmare mutant baby!
Please don't eat my face while I sleep!"
Do you desperately want a pet, but you're cursed with allergies? Or perhaps you don't find yourself with enough time to devote to a lovable critter? Well, the folks at Bio-Genica have you covered. In the very near future, you will be able to go to a local retail store and purchase a Genpet! At first glance, they look like an extremely advanced Pet Rock or Giga Pet. Their package has cute little air holes and feeding tubes, making it appear that these alien-looking creatures are alive in some kind of space age hyper sleep. Well, they are. These are actual, living beings and that's just the tip of the nightmare iceberg.

According to the website, "Genpets are living, breathing mammals. Bio-Genica is a Bioengineering Company that has combined, and modified existing DNA to create the Genpets lineup. Genpets have blood, bones, and muscle; they will bleed if you cut them, and die if mistreated just like any other animal. The electronic components are only in the packages and are for basic life support, outside of the packages the Genpets are wholly organic." Just to clarify, yes, these are living creatures that will be sold on retail shelves.

If you're wondering how the little guys stay alive in their plastic packaging, fear not. Those cute little air holes assist their breathing and the tubes supply them with nutrients needed for survival. The scientists behind the Genpets discovered a certain protein that aids in the hibernation of certain animals, and use it to keep the pets "comfortable" in their chemically induced hibernating state.

There are two different models (1 or 3-year spans) and seven different personality types, which are color coded for buyer preference. You can control your Genpet's personality as well. The site describes the process, "The Genpet feeding packs are color coded and specially formulated with a custom drug mixture that can be used to control the Genpet, much like human drugs can, such as Ritalin or Lithium and other behaviour modifying drugs. Thus we can calm them, or stimulate them without extra tampering to the DNA structure." The pets will have the same range of emotions, motion and cognitive abilities as a human infant, as that is what they were designed to resemble. (Hypoallergenic, genetically modified human beast babies.) Oh, they also have teeth. If you're concerned that you might get bitten, don't be. You can buy a tooth extractor from the company as well! Because, you know, safety first.

Are you scared yet? If you've ever seen "Gremlins," you'll know that something like this would have trouble written all over it, not to mention a plethora of moral and ethical reasons why this is all bad. While this seems like the plot for a horror film, and just a little to scary to be true, breathe a sigh of relief because these nightmare creatures are just an art showcase. According to Snopes, the Genpets are actually latex and plastic sculptures created by Canadian commercial artist, Adam Brandejs in 2005. According to the artist, the installment was a way to get people thinking about bioengineering. He revealed-

Art can be anything. Including the depths of your worst fears.
"I'm not against bioengineering, I'm simply hesitant towards where and how and by whom the technology will be used. That's what this art sums up. I don't ever want to be confused for as a crazy activist, nor do I want to appear as endorsing this technology. Bioengineering could lead to medical breakthroughs that save lives, but will it? This is more a critique of corporate ethics than of technological ethics. If you're still caught up on whether they're real or not, that's ok, a lot of people are, but that's not the point of the work. Slow down, stop, and think. Think about why it is that you probably, like most people seeing the work, find it highly disturbing on some level, and yet, still want to buy one. Why is it that you're so inclined to buy things, no matter what? And what is it that makes this concept so disturbing, or not disturbing to you? Consider both sides of the issue, and consider how we treat animals in farms, and pet stores today. How does that relate? This sculpture is the physical representation of a question. Bioengineering, like any new technology promises a great deal of positive effects. We as a race however tend to put a great deal more faith into technology as a saviour than it necessarily has earned. Through Genpets I question the negative effect that bioengineering can have, for we all know that when it all comes down to it, profit is the bottom line. The question surrounding bioengineering is not in its positive or negative ramifications, or where it can take us; it is whether or not we are responsible enough to go there."

After displaying the exhibit in a Toronto storefront, Brandejs stated, "Genpets seems to create a reaction wherever they go. While in the store window of Iodine Toronto, the shop owner began sleeping in the store as many nights, people would bang at the windows furiously. Some in protest of the small Bio-genetically engineered creatures trapped in plastic, some wanting to wake them up or buy them. Hordes of teens wanting a bioengineered pet met confused, baffled, or even shocked looks from parents. For an upcoming generation, through our own marketing techniques, life and the idea of life are quickly becoming viewed as disposable commodities." 

Despite the exhibit being nearly a decade old, it seems that the Genpets website is just now gaining more traction and causing the intended stir. You can rest easy with the knowledge that these Doctor Moreau inspired beasts are only "art." However, I leave you with this- just because you can, science, doesn't mean you should.

-Nowal Massari