It all started with a walking stick insect. They have the most fascinating evolutionary history I’ve ever read.
I describe myself as an avid reader, but I am mostly an avid learner. I like to read everything—fiction, nonfiction, magazines, news articles, textbooks, research articles, history books, even instruction manuals. I took one of those Strengths Quest personality profile tests once, and the adjective that came up as my most prominent descriptor was Learner.
From the Strengths Quest book, it says, “People with the strength of Learner love to learn in many areas and simply enjoy the process of learning, more than the topic of what is being learned. They enjoy learning almost anything, or perhaps going deep in only a few things. Either way, learning is fascinating and energizing.” That describes me perfectly, and because of that characteristic, I’ve learned how to do many, many things, and I’ve studied hundreds of diverse topics. One of these topics is genetic engineering, which I find fascinating.
APEX is about genetic engineering, and I want to have readers ponder the question of right to life. Do all creatures on this planet have an equal right to life, or are some more equal than others? We certainly play favorites among existing species, but what if an entirely new species were genetically created, or what if we brought back a species from extinction? Would they have the same rights as existing species? What if they were predatory and wreaked havoc like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton? Would their rights change based on their behavior? Genetic engineering is making these questions very real and are something we should be thinking about when we forge ahead with technology we don’t fully understand. Crichton often exploited the theme of “just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should,” and I loved his books for that reason.
I was reading a science article about the walking stick insect, and I learned something incredible. At various points in its evolutionary history, the walking stick has lost and re-evolved wings, depending on environmental conditions. In times of plenty, walking sticks lost their wings and developed larger egg sacs, as escaping from predators was not as essential. In lean times, they gained their wings again so as to cover more territory and move more quickly. This is incredible! Although it’s always been assumed that once a species lost a characteristic, the gene would remain forever altered, but now it appears that some gene sequences can remain dormant until needed. I mulled over this for days, wondering what other species besides stick insects might have latent, unexpressed gene sequences, and what would happen if we could turn them back on with genetic engineering? What if, when you turned back on one genetic sequence, like wings on a walking stick, it turned on a whole collection of other, unanticipated characteristics as well? This thought excited me, and I began brainstorming about what creature I could virtually, genetically manipulate and transform it into a modern Frankenstein’s monster?
And thus, APEX was born! If you want to learn what I did in my research and want to know how the story turns out, you’ll have to read my book.
If you enjoyed reading this bit about walking sticks and genetic engineering, sign up for my updates. I intend to regularly post new science-related stories and articles, which I promise will never make you want to drift off into a slumbering stupor.
Of course, there are also links to my longer, more technical journal articles on this author page, too. I think they’re great, so check them out when you’re feeling inquisitive.
Deborah Munro is an author, scientist, and president of Munro Medical, a biomedical research and consulting service. Services include:
- Medical Device Design
- Intellectual Property and Patents
- Reports Regulatory Compliance
- Prototyping and Testing
- Expert Witnessing