Science in Writing: Walls of Flesh

I want to start by apologizing to my readers for my absence. I left for Spring break vacation on March 3rd before the sun came up and did not return until late the next Saturday. I had a great time not touched by the pressures of technology, unfortunately that meant no internet, calls, or emails.

One thing I enjoy quite a bit about good science fiction is its exploration of ethics in science. Right now there are a lot of hot button issues focused on ethics in Biological sciences. This is understandable giving that its primary subject matter is life and being that much of the world is still largely composed of morally influenced structures where a respect for life (most dominantly, human life) that begs attention when considering what can be done in the rapidly advancing field of Biology.

This week I’d like to touch on some of the controversy surrounding lab grown organisms that comes up in a book called Ribofunk by Paul Di Filipo. Although Di Filipo does not engage in the most sophisticated of literary prose, but what he does do very well is creatively explore some common issues in bizarre ways. One of the most striking images I can recall was the mentioning of walls literally being made of flesh. They respond to stimuli, and are living, respiring, and self-maintained walls. The function of these walls is simply that they look cool and can change shape on will or demand as opposed to the traditional egg-shell flat painted walls we live with. It’s a fashion statement. The first thing I couldn’t help but consider was how many things could go wrong if those walls. If they got an infection the walls might ooze or stink of bacterial festering and then they might also infect patrons.

But beyond the literal level, however, there is something that is darkly fascinating and yet seemingly wrong about engineering an organism solely to exist as living self-maintaining hunk of flesh to cover some walls, only to be stripped down and killed when the owners are through with it. The utilization of engineering for human comfort.

This is an interesting topic to think about — we haven’t really been conditioned to consider whether or not this kind of thing is wrong or right. Technically, it’s not one of God’s creatures (eliminating the guilt of murder for many) because it was not born of another creature that was placed on this planet through “natural” means, but it’s still a living creature. According to PETA if it’s not cephalized (does not have a nervous central nervous system) it’s not really that bad to kill it—this was made obvious through their multi-million dollar support of American labs that are hard at work to deliver lab-grown meat to the commercial market. If it cannot feel pain then it’s okay to kill it . . .

A wall made of responsive flesh is without a doubt an extreme example, but it’s certainly an interesting scenario to consider when thinking about where the line is in considering how “alive” or aware does something need to be before we can consider it not Ok grow and kill.

— Deirdre McCormick, Editor

Editor’s Note: Deirdre McCormick is a third year Biology Major with a minor in Creative Writing.  She is deeply passionate for both topics and that is evident in much of her writing endeavors.  She was also recently published in Lewis University’s own Windows magazine.

One thought on “Science in Writing: Walls of Flesh

  1. rachlbean March 27, 2012 / 10:19 pm

    My first thought wasn’t to go to the morals of harming the wall, my first thought was “wow, that’s really cool”, but that’s a really interesting thought – I don’t know how I feel about it. If it’s skin it has nerves so it feels pain? But can it feel pain the same way that we do? As in, does it have a brain that registers the pain?
    I may have to read this!

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