The Mockingjay as Symbol and Reality

MockingjayBurningPoster2012-09-03.jpg

A burning Mockingjay symbol appears on this movie poster for “The Hunger Games.” Source of poster: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D4) “They’re funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol,” Katniss explains in the first book. And the nature of that slap in face is a new twist on the great fear about genetic engineering, that modified organisms or their genes will escape into the wild and wreak havoc. The mockingjay is just such an unintended consequence, resulting from a failed creation of the government, what Katniss means when she refers to “the Capitol.” But rather than being a disaster, the bird is a much-loved reminder of the limits of totalitarian control.
. . .
I asked Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist and science fiction writer at Kenyon College in Ohio, about her take on the mockingjay. Dr. Slonczewski, whose recent books include a text and a novel, “The Highest Frontier,” teaches a course called “Biology in Science Fiction.” The tools needed to modify organisms are already widely dispersed in industry and beyond. “Now anybody can do a start-up,” she said.
That’s no exaggeration. Do-it-yourself biology is growing. The technology to copy pieces of DNA can be bought on eBay for a few hundred dollars, as Carl Zimmer reported in The New York Times in March. As to where D.I.Y. biology may lead, Freeman Dyson, a thinker at the Institute for Advanced Study known for his provocative ideas, presented one view in 2007 in The New York Review of Books. He envisioned the tools of biotechnology spreading to everyone, including pet breeders and children, and leading to “an explosion of diversity of new living creatures.”
Eventually, he wrote, the mixing of genes by humans will initiate a new stage in evolution. Along the way, if he is right, the world may have more than its share of do-it-yourself mockingjays.

For the full story, see:
JAMES GORMAN. “SIDE EFFECTS; D.I.Y. Biology, on the Wings of the Mockingjay.” The New York Times (Tues., May 15, 2012): D4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 10, 2012.)

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