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 childrens DNA in case, well, in case of something. And now people are starting to save bits of their own DNA. Its true.
DNA, you see, is magic. Its 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 its got the secret to everything about us locked up in there. Thats 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 theyve barely scratched the surface. While theyre doing a great job of cataloging the genes, they basically still have no idea what it all means. Its like working hard (and spending billions of dollars) to learn the alphabet, then realizing you dont have a DNA-English dictionary on the shelf. Yup, were all DNA illiterates on this bus.
But this isnt 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 theyre real smart theyll 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. Thats 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.
Its 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 seasons venison. And theyll 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 youre lucky and still alive, Hairogenics will hand over your hair sample and--voila!--youll once again be able to walk around with a head of hair that makes Fabio look like Burt Reynolds. Thats 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 Im sure theyll 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 wouldnt 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 & Jerrys 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 youre 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 its a good idea for anybody, theyre 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, dont you?
Unfortunately the U.S. Copyright Office says this cant 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 wont touch the application with a ten-foot cotton swab. But all isnt 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 youre worth. Hopefully its 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 youll 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 peoples mantles as a way to remember those who have passed on. DNA--its not just for baldness cures anymore.
More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If Its Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org