The best books to learn to stop worrying and love bioengineered animals

Jeff Campbell Author Of Glowing Bunnies!? Why We're Making Hybrids, Chimeras, and Clones
By Jeff Campbell

Who am I?

As an author of YA science books (as well as being an editor), my goal is to inspire teens to think deeply about our world, but especially about our relationships with animals. To be honest, I knew bubkis about bioengineering until I was writing my previous book, Last of the Giants, about the extinction crisis. My head exploded as I learned how close we are to “de-extincting” lost species. The power that genetic engineering gives us to alter animals is unnerving, and it’s critical that we understand and discuss it. Bioengineering will change our future, and teens today will be the ones deciding how.    


I wrote...

Glowing Bunnies!? Why We're Making Hybrids, Chimeras, and Clones

By Jeff Campbell,

Book cover of Glowing Bunnies!? Why We're Making Hybrids, Chimeras, and Clones

What is my book about?

With modern bioengineering, science fiction’s “what if?” has become the scientist’s “why not?” Today, we have the tools to remake animals in almost any way we want, and genetic engineering is being used to help solve a range of urgent problems related to climate change, species extinctions, conservation, disease, human health, and the food industry. But as science fiction likes to warn us, altering animals isn’t without dangers, and it raises profound ethical questions. Glowing Bunnies!? explores how genetic engineering is currently reshaping animals and our world and asks that all-important question: Given what we can do, what should we do?

The books I picked & why

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How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution

By Jack Horner, James Gorman,

Book cover of How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution

Why this book?

It’s nice when scientists talk like regular people, with a sense of humor and simple explanations of how impossibly complex stuff works. That’s paleontologist Jack Horner, who has been the dinosaur consultant on all the Jurassic Park films. He’s currently trying to re-create a real-life dinosaur, which he makes sound like tinkering with the engine of a 1960s Mustang. Who me? Just trying to get a chicken embryo to grow into a dinosaur, to see if I can. And if it works, by the way, there’s your proof about the theory of evolution.  


How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

By Beth Shapiro,

Book cover of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

Why this book?

Shapiro’s title is a bait-and-switch. She immediately makes clear in big block letters: "WE CAN’T CLONE A MAMMOTH!" It’s impossible. So what is she doing? Well, we can genetically rejigger Asian elephants to resemble woolly mammoths, and that could be useful. Erzats mammoths might help restore the Siberian tundra, and bioengineered, cold-adapted elephants could expand their range north, which would help them survive climate change. Shapiro has little patience for romantic visions of restoring extinct species, but she makes a compelling—and reassuring—case for how we can use bioengineering to save endangered species while they still exist.


Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction

By Britt Wray,

Book cover of Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction

Why this book?

Thankfully, people are starting to chew over the tangled ethics of fiddling with animal genetics, and Britt Wray does it well. Though focused mostly on de-extinction, her forays into morals and philosophy apply to many applications, including using this technology on people. If bioengineering makes you uneasy—and who doesn’t it?—Wray helps dissect the source of that unease and distinguishes the main practical and ethical arguments for and against genetic tinkering.   


Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

By Chris D. Thomas,

Book cover of Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

Why this book?

Nature is in crisis. Species are dying at record rates, and it’s easy to feel panic and despair over our world’s future—not unlike the nuclear-age anxiety that Stanley Kubrik captured so well in Dr. Strangelove. But what if, Chris Thomas suggests, this isn’t the end? New species are also evolving at record rates, and bioengineering can accelerate that process. It’s possible we could use it to help foster a revolution of evolution. It’s hard to be an optimist in times like these, but Thomas inspires hope. All we need to do is accept that saving the world means embracing change, which is of course inevitable.  


Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

By Mary Roach,

Book cover of Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Why this book?

Mary Roach is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. Funny, sarcastic, relentless: She asks the questions no one else thinks of, like why does the Pope ride in a Ford Focus? And how many langurs were in President Trump’s security detail when he visited the Taj Mahal (in India)? In Fuzz, she asks: How can we learn to live with wild animals when they can be such a pain in the ass? This book is really about human-animal coexistence, not bioengineering (though she does discuss gene drives—scary!). But Roach is so jaunty, you feel like, somehow, we’ll figure it out. Eventually. You know, before it’s too late. 


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