If you’re like me and the radio news works as your morning alarm, and you’re pretty slow to get up, your last dream of the night can get pretty weird. Case in point – two or three mornings back Rick Moranis gave me this cool gun that could take away rodents’ fear. I tried it on a mouse hiding behind a chair leg and – voila – it started running around the open floor like it didn’t have a care in the world. Score, I thought. Infinite power! Then I dropped it out of a window and it became an old boot, and then I woke up.
As it turns out the real story is only a little less weird.
Geneticists breed a mouse without fear
Mice lacking the gene were slower to leave a wide open space. Normal mice scurried for cover. Mice naturally avoid being out in the open, the researchers note.
The mice without the stathmin gene also were less scared by a sound that they’d learned to associate with a mild foot shock.
The stathmin gene was required for the mice’s learned and innate fear, the researchers report.
There’s a practical use for gene therapy. I can have a kid who isn’t afraid of anything: running for president, social pressure, large animals with teeth, nothing. Humans have become the uncontested apex of the food chain. Do we even need fear anymore? Discuss.
Recommended reading: Gattaca, Aldous Huxley.
Fear is a good thing. They already have kids who lack the ability to feel pain. Sure, that would be cool for a while, but just because you can’t feel the pain from placing your hand into the blue flame on the stove doesn’t mean it’s OK to set your hand on fire.
In the wild, a mouse who feels no fear will be dead very quickly. Then again, that same mouse won’t fear death, so what’s the difference?
Mice without fear might make better pets, though. However, I’d hate to see a modification like this spread and then decimate the mouse population (or would I?). Then we’d have to let natural selection and evolution fight it out all over again until the population recovered.
Mouse escapes, mouse reproduces, future mice decide taste of blood good. Mice now top of food chain.
Hmmm, might be fun for awhile, though.
I’m not sure what the suburbs would do without their shared fear of black people.
You know, there probably are practical applications of this research. For example, if the anxiety gene is expressed abnormally in people with various psychological disorders, this knowledge could lead to breakthrough treatments of those disorders.
Also, if a mild-mannered nerd wanted to improve his lot in life, he could breed a bloodthirsty horde of killer rats to do his bidding.
Mice without fear would be dead mice.
I saw someone suggest we could manipulate soldiers so they’d show no fear. Then we’d have 5 million dead soldiers because they all ran straight into the oncoming fire of a machine gun nest, and the main concern of the enemy is running out of bullets. Maybe this would have been ok to do for the Russian military tactics of World War I, but today? Why?
Fear is good. What you need is training and discipline on top of the fear. Fear is what tells you it’s a bad idea to run straight into the machine gun nust. Training and Discipline is what tells you that you need to take out the machine gun nest despite your fear, and if you work as a team you can do it while mitigating risk to your squad.
I think some people are presupposing that if you lack fear you somehow cannot behave rationally. A chess computer does not “fear” being checkmated, but it somehow manages to play a good game of chess anyway. Likewise, a fearless soldier could still evaluate which tactical option has the best chance of success.
Psychopath’s are typically “fearless” and emotionless, emulating those emotions they see other people displaying while in public becomes a survival technique.
Then they start eatting their neighbors and things just kinda go “wrong”.
Exactly. Lack of fear doesn’t mean you’re running into the line of fire (to continue the soldier analogy). It just means that as you come under fire, you’re not afraid of it. I’d think you would be able to think more rationally if you weren’t afraid. Of course, I’m no soldier, and never trained as one, so it’s all just conjecture on my part.
I think in this particular case that’s the difference between mice and humans. Mice, when they have Fear removed from their genetic makeup, still lack the ability to think rationally and make intelligent decisions. Hence, a mouse stays out in the open where it is readily killed. Humans, absent fear, still have intelligence to guide them. Intelligence alone is enough to tell you “Maybe I shouldn’t run head-on into that machine gun position.”
” Humans, absent fear, still have intelligence to guide them. ”
Maybe. If a similar genetic modification were attempted on humans, who knows what would change in addition to the sensitivity to fear.
Finally, we start hearing the *good* news about psychopaths. It’s about time.
DougJ, you never hear about all the schools psychopaths build.
Shit, that happens to me all the time. Glad to see I’m not the only one.
DougJ – does this mean we’ve turned the corner on fear?
Or the MREs they delivered to the Superdome.
How do we know (without being the mouse), that the gene isn’t a gene that impacts rationality? What if it’s just turning on the mellow gene? Then you’d have fearless, mellow soldiers…
I say we mess with genes. Then maybe we can wipe ourselves out once and for all. Thin out that herd, you know.
Nice knowing ya.
Lines – LOL.
A few random thoughts:
One of my colleagues was recently involved in a project that involved attaching electrodes to rats’ brains and steering them around in remote environments, to be used for search and rescue. A big problem turned out to be that rats are pretty much terrified of everything, making it difficult to get them to do anything useful, even if you’re jolting them with electricity.
Fear still has its value, in that it can change the flow of adrenaline and other chemicals through our systems. If I’m in danger, I can reason that I should run faster, but if my limbic system doesn’t agree, well. . . Similarly, strong emotion can influence how well memories are stored for later retrieval. That’s something I wouldn’t necessarily want to give up.
I would miss fear; I’d have to throw out all of the horror movies in my DVD collection: Dracula, Frankenstein, When Harry Met Sally. . .
Fear is the best motivator. Fear of failure, fear of being broke, fear of not getting laid, etc. Fear leads to success, leads to proper decision making.
However, I hope to play poker with the first human being to get this no fear gene. I’d clean him out in an hour.
Repeat: Fear is good.
Just to take this discussion in a different direction. I’ve often thought that the more we uncover about our genetic wiring the more we run into a serious theological dilemma. If all of our habits and predispositions turn out to be bio-chemical engineering than doesn’t that obliterate any concept of God? And how about Christian judgement? If you are genetically wired to committ so-called “sins” then how can you actually win redemption. It wasn’t your fault to begin with and stopping is outside of your control as well. And if you are performing as “constructed” by God – even if it is in a sinful manner – then aren’t you fullfilling the purpose He gave you? Yet, you are to be punished for eternity for this? And what if there is a “God” gene (some recent studies indicate a strong bio-chemical connection to “mystic” religious experiences)? If we are all just bundles of DNA code and chemical reactions where does that leave the “ghost in the machine” (which could, itself, be just another genetic manifestation!)? That’s some deep shit. And I’m not even stoned.
Most of that isn’t really a new theological dilemma.
If you believe that God created human beings and that God is omnipotent, then human beings’ capacity for sin is something that God created us with. The discovery of a genetic link to that changes the ‘how’ but doesn’t really touch the ‘why.’ In other words, if “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” then does it really matter whether the trouble is due to genetic inclination or to ‘original sin?’
Frankly, I’m more interested in discussing the potential benefits and ramifications of identifying a ‘fear gene.’ For example, I mentioned upthread that there may be potential to treat psychological illnesses. Frankly, sci-fi paranoia aside, I think that those kinds of applications are a bit more likely than ‘creating a race of fearless soldiers.’ But any kind of gene therapy brings with it a host of ethical dilemmas in its own right. For example, let’s say that a mutated expression of the fear gene is responsible for sociopathy. Who gets tested? When? What happens if someone tests positive, but isn’t currently sociopathic? It’s the breast cancer gene debate all over again, but with added homicidal tendencies.
And MIGHTY MOUSE is born
Actually I think the Mouse Without Fear would be DaredevilMouse, or perhaps one of the Green Lanterns.
Yes, I am a comics dork :(
I had to include this