Tied with Bayknot (Part II)
For Tied with Bayknot Part I, click here
“Bayknot has hired me for a special project,” I spoke slowly as I watched Julia’s eyes become hungry for explanation. “I was not made aware of the type of work they would ask me to do before I was hired. I honestly expected to join the team of bioengineers, I mean that’s what I applied for so-“
“Gerald?” Julia gave me her spit it out already look.
“Okay, okay. So I wanted to work on finding a cure to Ebola-“
“Yes, and you get to do that by working at Bayknot.” Julia clarified. I hate when she states the obvious.
“Please, just let me speak,” I realized Julia didn’t appreciate that so I added, “honey.”
The couple sat on the bench across from me, turned slightly so that they faced each other. The man seemed very uneasy, which was making the woman apprehensive and eager. “Bayknot isn’t targeting the traditional methods of, well, treatments. I’m not supposed to talk to anyone about this, so swear to me that you won’t repeat what I tell you.”
“Okay…” the woman hesitantly agreed. I realized my hands had been frozen in the same position for the last few minutes, an obvious giveaway that I was certainly not minding my own business. I began to knit again and lowered my gaze to my red sweater, which was coming along rather nicely, although I kept the couple in my peripherals.
The man accepted her weak agreement and quickly continued, “Okay, here goes. For some background, doctors have previously taken blood plasma from Ebola survivors and injected it into Ebola patients. Okay.” The man looked at his wife as if to make sure she was still with him. “Bayknot is using a herd of genetically identical cows and genetically engineering them with human DNA so that they can incubate antibodies against the Ebola virus.” He froze and stared at her, waiting for her to digest what he had just blurted.
I couldn’t do much more than simply stare back at Gerald. I didn’t even know if I fully understood what he had just said; still a stream of nausea was developing in my throat. After a minute of direct and uncomfortable eye contact, he accepted that I wasn’t going to say anything and continued. “The cows produce extremely high levels of human antibodies, so we can take the blood plasma from the cows to treat people with the virus. This method allows us to make 500 to 1,000 human doses per month, per animal.” His voice trailed off towards the end of his sentence. I still couldn’t respond.
The fact that Julia was staring absent-mindedly at me was making me regret this conversation. I felt my face turning a light shade of green. I shouldn’t have told her.
Genetically identical cows? So cow clones? And engineering them with human DNA? So cloned cows that are not really cows but part cows and part humans? I mimicked the woman’s reaction.
This is outrageous! It’s basically harvesting the cows. And what happens when we eat beef? Does that become cannibalism? I began to imagine this genetically engineered creature in my mind. It had the nose of man that elongated to merge with the nose of a cow. Human ears rested on the side of its bovine head. It had hands for hooves yet still maintained a heavy body structure. How can this even be legal?
Gerald was waiting for me to say something. I croaked out some awkward sounds but still couldn’t find my words. Gerald looked like he had more to add but I hesitated to ask. So they can treat people with Ebola, that’s huge. This is a good thing. But…
“I know you’re still digesting-“
“Please don’t use that word,” Julia retorted. Finally, she spoke! I waited for her to comment but she recoiled in silence and confliction. I understood why, after all. Julia works at the Animal Welfare Firm as a defense lawyer and handles environmental policy cases on the side. She has been animal lover and environmentalist since the day she was born. I remember her dad telling me stories of her and Chloe, her childhood pet mouse. Her dad had set up mouse traps around their house in the summer of 1990 and 5-year-old Julia, always the first to wake up in her family, found a baby mouse in the trap behind the laundry machine. She cried and cried as her dad explained that the mouse had to go- it carried filth and disease and he wouldn’t want her to get sick. Of course, 5-year-old Julia did not understand these things and threw a tantrum until her dad gave in and allowed her to keep the mouse, although it would remain in a cage and no one would be allowed to touch it. Her mom always comments during the story: I can’t believe you let her keep that filthy thing, Mike!
“So you are using cloned human-cow hybrids to cure Ebola patients,” it was more of a statement than a question. I never supported animal testing, I guess that’s why Gerald was so conflicted to tell me. He can’t stand seeing me hurt.
“Kind of. That’s not all.” Why do I feel like he hasn’t told me the bad part yet?
“Please tell me it doesn’t get worse, Gerald,” I begged.
“I have to stay objective here,” he muttered, although I knew even he understood his objectivity was impossible. “Julia, you know I love animals as much as you do.” I gave him a moderately playful look, “Okay, maybe not as much, but I still care. That’s why all this is so difficult for me, but honey, we need the paycheck.” I couldn’t disagree. We were beginning to fall behind; I had persuaded Gerald to paint the nursery and buy this top-notch crib. He had told me that the baby won’t care what color the room is, but I was obstinate. And from what Suzie tells me, the diaper supply is going to cost a fortune.
*Bayknot Gen is a fictional organization although details of this story are true. Check out NBC News for more information.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Is it acceptable to essentially harvest animals for medical purposes?
Should the same ethical treatment laws apply to cloned animals?
What about animals that are “part human?”