My way of tackling this difficult prompt, says Therese, was to write about a perspective that I passionately disagree with—the idea that we as humans are meant to take control of nature, and shape the world to suit us. Genetic modification is a particularly disturbing area, with the capacity to do irreversible damage to the Earth. I must point out that not all scientists think like this. But the scary thing is that some do.
Sarah was used to criticism. Whether from greenies or religious types, she’d learnt to ignore it and get on with the job. She pulled the latex gloves over her hands and snapped the rubber tight at the wrists. Then she looked down into the microscope and adjusted the knobs, seeing her specimen blur and then come into crisp focus. Looking up again she removed another glass slide from the box and dropped a circle of cloudy liquid onto it with a pipette.
Lab work could be tedious sometimes, but when there were results, real advancements, then all the hard work became worth it. What was true was this: Genes were building blocks, which could be altered or manipulated, in order to build new things. Sarah was a genetic engineer, an explorer of new and exciting scientific territory. She considered it her duty to do this research, to test things, to come to understand genes and their uses. Whether it was a new pest-resistant strain of wheat, or a breed of cattle that would produce better meat, faster, well, it was all part of her service to humanity.
In fact, it was ironic that the people who objected to what she did on religious grounds accused her of playing God, because didn’t they understand the upshots? She was working for their benefit, making God’s plans manifest, in a better, more controlled, faster way. Giving evolution a bit of a kick up the backside.
She looked down into the microscope again, moved one slide out and slotted another in. What she did was all for the greater good. No exasperating protestors were going to keep her from her work, her duty, her motivation in life.
‘The purpose of science is to understand nature, so that we can increase our dominance over it, and control it.’ That’s what one of her university professors had said, back when she was a student. One of his scientific idols, Francis Bacon, had said something to that effect. It was so inspiring!
So Sarah had dedicated her life to that aim. To understanding genetics, so that genes could eventually be controlled, made to perform certain functions. Surely a strain of wheat that resists all known pests is the ultimate strain of wheat. A logical progression from the imperfect, chaotic creations of nature, to the prefect, controlled creations of humanity.
Someone had broken in to the lab the previous month. Six month’s worth of samples had been destroyed, and the modified seedlings in the plant nursery, the whole place trashed. It had been such an expense replacing the equipment, improving the security, but now the lab was shiny and new, a pleasing sterile smell wafting up from the brand new lino.
Sarah looked up from her work and got to her feet, stretching out her cramped spine. She walked over to the window and looked out across the car park. Weeds sprouted out from the gaps between the concrete, and along the edges, and she frowned.
‘I’ll find a way to control you,’ she said. ‘Just you wait and see.’