You Want a Piece of Me?

DNA is poised to be the baseball trading cards of the 21st century. Everyone wants to collect it. The police take samples from anyone who will hold still long enough to let them stick a Q-tip in their mouth. Parents are preserving their children’s DNA in case, well, in case of something. And now people are starting to save bits of their own DNA. It’s true.

DNA, you see, is magic. It’s not just a teeny tiny twisty strand of genes that looks suspiciously like a spiral staircase that would make you incredibly dizzy were you to climb it, apparently it’s got the secret to everything about us locked up in there. That’s why scientists are racing to decode it, using supercomputers, high-tech lab equipment, lots of government grant money, and a Cracker Jack decoder ring, but they’ve barely scratched the surface. While they’re doing a great job of cataloging the genes, they basically still have no idea what it all means. It’s like working hard (and spending billions of dollars) to learn the alphabet, then realizing you don’t have a DNA-English dictionary on the shelf. Yup, we’re all DNA illiterates on this bus.

But this isn’t stopping anyone from saving DNA "just in case." Some people are saving it in the hope that cloning becomes possible, practical, legal, and available at Wal-Mart while you wait. Hey, if cloning is going to catch on it had better not take longer than it does to get film developed. If they’re real smart they’ll figure out a way to make them digitally. After all, this is the Age of Instant Gratification, you know. Other people are saving DNA in case scientists unravel it--metaphorically, of course--and can predict their medical future. That’s right, DNA could turn out to be the palm reading of the New Millennium. Still others are saving it in case they lose their hair.

It’s true. A San Francisco company named Hairogenics is selling a kit which allows people to clip a few bits of hair, mail it to the company, and have it stored in a refrigerator in a basement in Oregon, right next to last season’s venison. And they’ll do it for only $49.95 plus $10 a year. The idea is that if you end up going bald, medical science might happen to find a cure which involves the manipulation of genes. Then if you’re lucky and still alive, Hairogenics will hand over your hair sample and--voila!--you’ll once again be able to walk around with a head of hair that makes Fabio look like Burt Reynolds. That’s Burt without his toupee, of course.

So far 200 people, including two women, have sent in their hair, leaving Hairogenics with enough room to store another 799,800 samples. And I’m sure they’ll get them, in spite of the fact that even if scientists did figure out which gene they could screw with so your hair would start to grow again they wouldn’t need your hair to be able to do it. After all, DNA is DNA. Every bit of it has the same information no matter what part of your body it comes from, so the intimate details about your hair can come from anywhere. In other words, you might as well spit in a vial and stash it in your freezer next to the Ben & Jerry’s We Are The Vanilla Fudge Whirled as send Hairogenics a snippet of your hair. Then you can spend the $49.95 plus $10 a year you saved on a nice hat to keep your balding head warm while you’re waiting for medical science to catch up to fly-by-night capitalists.

Meanwhile the DNA Copyright Institute, also based in--gasp!--San Francisco, is trying to convince people to have their DNA copyrighted. For a fee, of course. While they say it’s a good idea for anybody, they’re targeting big time entertainers, athletes, and models who have lots of money to waste. And also may be afraid that someone might extract the DNA from a paper towel they used in the rest room and run down to Clones-R-Us to have a copy made in thirty minutes or less. Actually, this is a good idea. The protection, not the cloning. After all, who wants to risk someone making a second Carrot Top. Or a third. Or...well, you see the potential nightmare now, don’t you?

Unfortunately the U.S. Copyright Office says this can’t be done. Something about copyrights being issued for original works of authorship, so unless God or Mother Nature applied for the copyright on your DNA they won’t touch the application with a ten-foot cotton swab. But all isn’t lost. Another service the DNA Copyright Institute offers is to hold onto your sample and issue you a framed representation of your DNA profile, which looks like a bar code that can be scanned at Safeway so at least you can find out how much you’re worth. Hopefully it’s more than their fees.

The boom in collecting DNA will open up whole new business opportunities. eBay could have an area where people put their slightly used DNA up for bid. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange could start trading DNA futures so not only can you have your DNA under lock and key at Hairogenics and the DNA Copyright Institute, but you’ll be able to hedge your bet just in case it turns out someone else already holds the copyright to your DNA and baldness is caused by global warming, not genetics. And little DNA urns could start gracing people’s mantles as a way to remember those who have passed on. DNA--it’s not just for baldness cures anymore.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It’s Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email:

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.