Jim Hightower

Toying With Life and Traffic


Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you on a journey to an exotic junkyard, where you can get all sorts of useful spare parts. But these are not parts for your car, or even for your spaceship — they’re spare parts for you. They are manufactured by PPL Therapeutics of Scotland, the company that became famous a couple of years ago by cloning Dolly the sheep — the first clone produced from a cell of an adult mammal.

Now, PPL Therapeutics has done it again, this time producing five little piggies cloned from the cell of a sow named Destiny. The purpose of this high-tech reproduction: to provide a ready source of transplant organs for us humans. It seems that you and I are closely related to pigs, physiologically speaking, so PPL sees a terrific market in what is called “xenotransplantation” — the taking of animal parts and transplanting them into people who need a new liver, a heart, a spleen, a snout, or whatever.

Destiny’s litter is especially exotic, since the pigs not only are identical clones, but also have been genetically tampered with. The cell that was used to produce them was altered in the lab so their organs, once transplanted into a human, would be less likely to be rejected.

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of putting cloned, genetically altered pig parts into people, noting that animal illnesses can cross over to humans. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, deplore the idea of treating pigs as “test tubes with tails.” PPL Therapeutics, however, doesn’t give a pig’s butt about medical or ethical objections, because it calculates that the market for the organs of technological wonder-pigs is about $6 billion a year. PPL even named one of its piglets dotcom, saying that Wall Street seems to love any company associated with a dotcom.


Scientists in Massachusetts have patented a process of splicing a flounder gene into the growth-hormone gene of the salmon, causing the resulting fish to grow twice as fast and more than twice as large as normal. At first, this would seem to be a bonanza for fish farmers — double the fish in half the time.

But it’s not nice to try to fool Mother Nature, and the scientists’ genetically engineered supersalmon comes with a devastating flaw: its eggs have a much lower rate of survival than their natural cousins. This is a case in which bigger definitely would not be better, for many scientists see this genetically engineered fish as a biological time bomb that can devastate wild populations of salmon and other fish.

You see, domesticated fish routinely get loose from their watery pens, escaping to breed with wild species. If even a few of these Frankenfish escape, the damage could be extensive. In this case, the “oops! factor” of science comes into play, for the genetically-enhanced, supersalmon males are most attractive to females, who naturally look for size when choosing mates. It’s a survival-of-the-species thing. But — oops! — this big stud would pass on its genes that produce inferior eggs, thus threatening the long-term existence of the very species. As a Newsday writer put it, “Males engineered to be big might win the mating battle but lose the survival war … The fish would breed themselves into oblivion.” In their avaricious rush to cash in, arrogant genetic manipulators are causing more problems than they are solving. To learn more, contact www.biotechcentury.org.


Let’s take another peek into the “Lifestyles of the Rich … and Cranky.”

The one thing that seems to make the rich crankiest of all is when their money doesn’t do them any good, doesn’t buy them special privileges that lift them above the humdrum burdens that the rest of us must endure. Take traffic. No matter how juicy the bottom-line on your net-worth statement, no matter how expensive your car, no matter if you even have a chauffeur to drive you — when you’re in a traffic jam … well, there you are. Gridlock knows no class, and, darlings, that’s simply infuriating.

I know you feel their pain, so you’ll be absolutely delighted to hear that relief is at last available for the gridlocked rich. More and more of them are literally lifting themselves above us riffraff in the slow lanes of life by buying personal helicopters to take them to and fro their suburban enclaves. As one Princeton dweller said of his ability to zip into Manhattan for a meeting, “I can look over the traffic.” Exactly. Helicommuting restores the class order.

Of course, it’s pricey, but what’s money good for if not to let you “look over” the rabble? USA Today reports that a paper mill owner used to drive his Mercedes into Seattle from his Vashon Island estate, until a fellow islander gave him a lift in his helicopter. “I immediately went out and bought one,” said the executive.

Want your own? USA Today tells us that copter prices are down, so you don’t have to be a billionaire to chop into work every day. You can pick up a little two-seater for only $154,000! Then there’s the cost of fuel, insurance, and maintenance — not to mention a pilot. Problem is, if everybody who’s anybody is buzzing around the skies, haven’t we just lifted gridlock up a few hundred feet? And, up there, a fender-bender gets serious. See — it’s tough being rich.

Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com, or write [email protected].