Diversity Murders

With homage to Charis Thompson for her true fiction story in science studies, "Confessions of a Bioterrorist,"53 I conclude "Examined Lives" with a foray into detective fiction, starting with my (reedited) post to CANGEN-L on January 26, 2000:

Okay, List Members, I'll start a shaggy dog murder story for genetic diversity and see if anyone wants to help write this pulp contribution by committee! I'd like three friends to be the sleuths, all human alpha bitches of a certain age and each with different appendages in dog worlds.

One sleuth is a long-term breeder of herding dogs; and since we're speculating, I take the liberty of choosing Australian shepherds, the best example of herders anyway <vbg>. This breeder is an Anglo woman from a ranching family of modest means who lives in California's Central Valley not far from Fresno. She has tried hard over four decades, ever since Aussies became institutionalized as a breed, to produce dogs who could herd with matchless skill, win in conformation, excel in obedience and agility sports, and serve as pets with dignity. This woman graduated from high school, is self-educated, very smart, and richly connected in dog worlds, especially in the herding and working dog breeds. Next to herders, livestock guardian dogs have a special place in her heart, and she's informed herself about the population and ecological history of the various LGDs in Europe and Eurasia and their construction as institutionalized breeds in the United States and Europe. She took the side of the anti-AKC faction in the great Aussie wars of the 1980s, but she's been active in both of the registries for the last few years. Lately, she's made friends with a health and genetics activist in Fresno who publishes a newsletter that's making a lot of people mad. This sleuth has her doubts about the ways scientists treat breeders and about the hardness of the data that scientists use to make claims about breeding practices. She's a hard-headed realist about dogs, and there's not much she wouldn't do to stay true to her commitment to their well-being. She's also one of the few people who can talk to both ranchers and environmentalists about wolf reintroductions in the West. She is active in the Navajo Sheep Project and in solidarity with Diné bi' iina'. No friend of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, nonetheless she works with them to expose the conditions of the factory-farming meat industry.

My second sleuth is a molecular geneticist at UC Davis who is forming a venture capital start-up company in order to research and market diagnostic kits for genetic diseases affecting toy breeds mainly. Her company is called Genes 'R' Us, and Toys 'R' Us is suing her for trademark infringement after her marketing campaign got toys and genes a little too confused. She has papillons and competes at a high level in agility meets, where she met sleuth i. She has been connected recently with Southern California assisted reproduction clinics that are taking steps toward cloning humans. She has a strong interest in the frozen zoo collection at the San Diego Zoo and in the transnational world of conservation biology and politics. She's a second-generation Chinese American, and partly because she has an uncle in China who works as a panda biologist, she became involved with the politics of international panda population restoration in both zoos and wildlife preserves. She's no stranger to the problems of small populations. Besides her four papillons, she has a Newfoundland puppy and two aging golden retriever-whippet crosses she got from a shelter fifteen years ago.

My third sleuth is a nutritional biochemist at Ralston Purina, and she went to graduate school at Cornell with sleuth 2. Like many African American women of her generation who earned chemistry degrees, she took a job in industry rather than academia. Her research has put her right in the middle of controversies about diets tailored to metabolic disorders in companion animals, and all the ideological and commercial battles about dogs made her interested in the genetic issues in allergies, digestive malfunctions, reproductive ill health, and metabolic diseases. With sleuth i, she's trying to get studies funded to test hypotheses about loss of genetic diversity and ill health. She started by asking if purebred dogs really are "sicker" now than in the past, and if so why. She's ended up the target of suspicion by both her division chief at the company and advocates of unprocessed "natural foods" for dogs. Her passion has led her to form research consortia with veterinarians, modeled after AIDS community research efforts, to try to get good data on the cheap from vet practices. All of this led her to an analysis of nutrition, hunger, health, and illness for both human and nonhuman animals around the world that has more to do with justice and sustainable agroecology than with genes. When she can get free of all this, she brings her two chow chows to assisted living communities as therapy dogs. She is proving that chows can have great temperaments. This lady takes on hard projects as a way of life.

The three women and their Aussie, chow, and papillon pooches got together for a vacation at a summer dog camp only to discover that they each have more than a few ideas about the recent murder of a famous dog writer who had authored a series of controversial stories in the New Yorker about how the Dog Genome Project would finally throw light on behavioral genetics in humans as well as in dogs. The writer had infuriated everyone, from those worried about a new eugenics, to advocates of cloning on demand, to animal rights activists, to bench scientists, to breeders, to those committed to dogs' difference from humans as an ethical principle crucial to canine well-being. But before the murder is solved, the trail takes our sleuths into commercial, laboratory, conservation, and dog breeding and show world science and politics that put genetic diversity on the talk shows all over the country and brought the AKC to its knees.

In response to my e-mailed prompt, "But I am looking for a suspect," C. A. Sharp, my obvious model for the Diversity Murders' "health and genetics activist in Fresno who publishes a newsletter that's making a lot of people mad," posted back:

Hmmm. Maybe pups.com is also a major shareholder in the corporate lab that does AKC's DNA-PV [parentage verification testing] and has been pushing AKC toward mandatory. Puppy millers don't like this. Many non-commercial breeders are not exactly delighted for a variety of reasons. Maybe a zealot who espouses the need for mandatory DNA and open disease registries has been publicly critical of pups.com's mixed motivations.

You aren't helping, Donna. I've put fiction-writing on hold so I could deal with a backlog of canine genetics projects. Now you're sucking me back in with canine fiction!

I responded to the list:

C.A., now we're purring! Fabulous ideas. Lists of suspects are beginning to suggest themselves. Consider canine genetic fiction double tasking and definitely part of getting those genetics projects done. . . .

Have you seen the new company name that is associated with the [dog-cloning] Missyplicity Project? Genetic Savings and Clone. See Wired, March 2000. That—plus my new ethical obligation, made clear in Lazaron BioTechnologies' ad right next to Thorpe-Vargas and Cargill's article on cloning in the March DogWorld, of "saving a genetic life"—has me thinking CANGEN might also ask how the extraordinary genetic popular and commercial culture we are gestating in affects our efforts to think clearly about scientific issues. "Right to life" discourse always makes me break out in hives, and "saving a genetic life" is just such a powerful allergen.

I'm already multi-tasking (what woman doesn't?). And my processor (not to mention my husband) is flashing error messages warning me that I am about to exceed my RAM!

To be continued . . . Watch for the series on Amazon.com, where purchases will earn the Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Institute a percentage. Move over, Susan Conant!54

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