48
Bacterial Engineering

Genetic engineering is not really something new. Human beings have been fiddling with genes for as long as ten thousand years. That's how long they have been growing plants and herding animals.

Of course, in earlier times human beings had not even heard of genes, but it made reasonable sense to see to it that an unusually strong bull sired many calves and that an unusually good milker mothered as many as possible; and, again, that one used the best strains of wheat for seed—those that grew fastest or that yielded particularly plump grains.

In consequence, over the generations the plants and animals that humanity had domesticated came to change their characteristics in the directions human beings deemed desirable. Horses are bigger, stronger, and faster than their prehistoric progenitors; cattle are more placid and yield more beef and milk; sheep yield more wool; chickens lay more eggs; turkeys have larger breasts; and so on.

Animals can be bred for amusement, too. Think of some of the breeds of dogs and pigeons that exist.

Nor does anyone ever consider what is good for the animals themselves. Many of them could no longer exist in the wild without human care. The corn plant could not even reproduce without human help.

Although human beings were not able to control the mating of smaller and simpler creatures in the same way they could the large plants and animals they had domesticated, they did what they could to make use of their labors. They plundered beehives for honey and certain caterpillar cocoons for silk. They even put yeast cells to work fermenting fruit juices and soaked grain.

All these things were done in prehistoric times. Oddly enough, humanity

-266-

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