July 25, 2021

No News From Doodlebug Island…by William F. Jordan


You knew it was going to be a fun-filled day when it was announced that Sandy Upshar, a Democrat, had received an invitation to the Republican think-tank to be held in October at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park. The idea of a well-loved and highly respected history professor from Doodlebug University being invited to a think tank whose visions extend barely to the limits of legislation bought and paid for by the Koch brothers sent a wave of laughter over the whole of the island. For everyone knew that that prank would soon be followed by another, the extent of which would match the drollery of the first.

Nor was anyone in any doubt regarding the source of Sandy’s invitation. It came at the hands of the Blythe spirit to whom he was married, the effervescent Niki whose talent for extraordinary gift-giving matched and possibly exceeded that of her fun-loving husband!

For, in all their married life, neither was known for presenting the other with anything conventional, mundane, or unimaginative. That was why Niki’s wardrobe included the largely skeletal remains of a fox fir which she wore on those special occasions when Sandy accompanied her dressed as he was in an ancient, rumpled, and ill-fitting 1888 suit that even the moths had given up on. It was also the explanation for Niki’s lifetime membership in the KKK, and for Sandy’s mining operation consisting of a three foot shaft in a granite cliff on state land so distant from civilization as to nearly require a moon landing to get there.

Anticipation wore the better part of three days away before what patience Islanders could generate was rewarded. A small package addressed to Niki arrived at the Doodlebug post office, and when claimed, was borne to her home by members of the attendant crowd. Inside the box, Niki discovered syringes and rubber gloves and other types of laboratory equipment and an instruction manual for organizing it.

Naturally, everyone present—and there were a sizable number present—wanted to know the use that such equipment would serve, and Niki herself was as mystified as anyone. It was only after the box was nearly empty she discovered a set of instructions. The small booklet bore the title, “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.” A notation suggested the use of the pseudonym “CRISPER” for everyday use. Upon further examination, she discovered a small box containing a vial of an enzyme called CAS9, and a second labeled RNA, but the latter was empty.

“I know what all of this is for,” cried Niki, “and what a wonderful joke! Sandy has outdone himself this time.”

But if it was obvious to Niki, it was much less so to those gathered. They had expected to see something with live action, or at least something that provoked instant merriment. But what good were a couple vials and a few syringes?

“You don’t understand,” said Niki shaking with laughter. “Sandy and I have been reading about how precise nucleotides — those found to be responsible for HIV, Zika, or other genetic maladictions — can be eliminated from the DNA of human cells through the use of an enzyme called CAS9. We joked that if it were possible for this enzyme to snip out undesirable DNA sequences and replace them with those more benign, why couldn’t its use be expanded toward the elimination of such things as poor behavior and poor judgment? We wondered if there couldn’t be and an enhancement of desired traits?”

Now aware of what the whole thing was generally about, members of the crowd began thinking of those uses toward which the CAS9 enzyme might be used and those upon whom it might well be effectively used.

“I’d volunteer my mother-in-law,” said Benny Jacobs, plaintively.

“Would it do anything for my husband’s snoring?”wondered Jenny Morgan, pensively.

It turned out almost everyone had a trait or a person who possessed a trait—that is if only one trait were allowed—he or she would volunteer for gene therapy.

“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” laughed Niki. “Genetic improvement is generational; it happens over several generations. It only promises a better tomorrow, but it can do nothing toward reframing today. Still, if we subjected our Republican friends to a CAS9 for character traits and not just those of a germ line, we might breed more compassionate, less judgmental folks less given to violence. Of course, to do so we’d likely have to snip away so much unwanted DNA there wouldn’t be anything left!” Her smile was an odd mix of the malicious and the angelic.

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