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INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW
Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School recently got a bright idea. Why not genetically alter a mouse and see how long he lives? That is how Yoda first gained the attention of scientists.
The first thing researchers did was to retain his "dwarf" genes--the theory being small is better, at least as far as longevity goes. Then researchers tweaked the little fellow's temperature DNA. Yoda suddenly became overly sensitive to cold. Lastly, they messed with his pituitary and thyroid hormones to lessen the production of insulin.
Before Yoda underwent this metamorphosis (note, subject never consented to this process), he was living reasonably well in the university geriatrics center with about 100 "over-the-hill" male mice. Dr. Richard Miller, associate director of the center, says "Yoda" received his name because the dwarf mouse reminded Miller (a sci-fi fan extraordinaire) of the wise man in the "Star Wars" movies. Miller's choice of moniker was apt since, like the Star Wars trilogies, Yoda has had a long run.
In fact, according to a small clique of overeducated, underpaid teaching assistants, Yoda's age is equivalent to 136 in human years and Yoda himself is quite the cat's meow, so to speak. Still a vigorous male with a healthy sex drive (Yoda that is, not Miller), the tiny mouse has been living it up on brie and Danish flat bread for the past four years. "He's looking good," said Dr. Miller, who explained that normal mice usually live only two years.
Of course, anyone with half a brain or more (which, I realize, excludes most truck drivers and the majority of government bureaucrats) knows that Yoda is now pushing the "age" envelope. The good news, though, is except for one drawback (which researchers don't actually perceive as a drawback), Yoda is like any other scientifically committed mouse. He sleeps, he eats, he amuses himself with plastic playthings bought at Rodents 'R Us. However, Yoda cannot carry out one important function: He is unable to maintain a proper body temperature. And here's where his devoted spouse, Princess Leia enters the picture. Without her body warmth, Yoda would freeze to death. That's a fact. I don't want to sound crude, but Yoda's gain is Leia's loss. He's all over her--like a cheap mousetrap.
Now I'm not the type of person who looks at the world through a feminist lens. But let's pause for a moment and ask a few questions. Who, for example, decided that the male of this particular rodent species would be the gender selected to cash in on the longevity thing? And which researcher did not have the foresight to realize the female would be nothing more than a hot water bottle to her spouse for the duration of the experiment? Answer: It was probably the same public relations sap who pointed out to the media that the Princess (what a misnomer!) would be rewarded for her contributions. Suicidal or not, she would receive a first-class ticket to cross the rainbow bridge at the tender age of 68.
I have news for Dr. Miller, chief decision-maker and former Mouseketeer). Gender-biased research is not only politically incorrect; it's plain stupid. If I were the good doctor, I'd be worrying right now what women scientists might be proposing for future research models. We could be talking studies on the life expectancy of impotent mice!
And that's not the half of it. If and when Ms. Magazine gets a whiff of this research, the University of Michigan might as well file for bankruptcy. Goodbye endowments. Goodbye old money! I mean, what were these male mavens of academia thinking? Did they really believe women would be too busy ranting about unequal pay and panty hose to pay attention to current events? Because although this study took place in only one institution, it was not just local news, mind you. Not only was it picked up by the Associated Press and replayed in such geographically diverse media as the New Kerala News Channel in India, the Melbourne Herald Sun in Australia, and the Megastar News in the UK, it also received the "Millionth Mice Award," only given to scientists whose grant originally incorporated that number of mice.
But back to my bitching. Obviously Dr. Richard and his crew vastly underestimated the combined cognitive powers of at least 50 percent of the American population--a majority of whom are baby boomers obsessed with their bodies, weight--AND life span.
So, on behalf of these aging boomers--who otherwise would remain unempowered and disenfranchised--I have a few more questions for Herr Director. First off, what are you going to do with all these old mice if you and your "old boy network" are successful? Hollywood is not interested in a 93-minute feature titled "Grouchy Old Mice," not even if Mickey or that Italian puppet-fellow, Topo Gigio gets top billing. Second, who made Dr. Miller god? And now we come to the real problem (which I know will be discounted as the senseless grievance of hysterical housefrau): Why at the outset of this experiment was the female dwarf mouse not offered the job of Old Fogey Mouse? Did Dr. Richard not think Princess Leia could pull it off? Was he worried about a possible conflict between work and children? Or did he fear the collective jeering of his scientific buddies?
And another thing: What justification is there for that "mousicle" business? Couldn't researchers just as easily negotiate a different gene package--something that would not involve internal thermostats and total male dependence on the female? After all, Princess Leia wasn't genetically engineered to be "Mary Tyler Mouse." And isn't it cruel and unusual punishment to expect a computer-age mouse to devote 24/7 to her cage mate?
Think that one over, Dr. Miller. Animal activists in PETA and Doris Day groupies may back your efforts to lengthen the lives of rodents, but wait until they see exhaustion written over the face of Princess Leia! I wouldn't be surprised if they sought a court order to dismantle your lab.
Not to worry, though. You have bigger things to whine about--such as money, which I would be remiss if I didn't mention. Just who, may I ask, financed your little frolic? The State of Michigan? "The Association of Myopic Males? Or was it the mighty NIH? Will the feds be inclined to continue their economic support once the scourge of sexual discrimination surfaces?
What? Did you say "news flash"?
Associated Press, April 22, 2004
"Yoda dies at University of Michigan lab. He is survived by his companion mouse, Princess Leia. "
Oh dear--was it something I said? Naaah….