The Mouse’s Promise: What the Laboratory Mouse Can Teach Us About the Modern Eugenics Dilemma
Alan Yang

The Mouse’s Promise: What the Laboratory Mouse Can Teach Us About the Modern Eugenics Dilemma
  • Exactly 100 years have passed since the creation of the most popular strain of laboratory mice today. Aided by these mice, genetic advances have turned our genomes into an increasingly intelligible code and made trendy gifts out of DNA testing kits. Many people worry that a “designer baby” future is just around the corner but want a clearer picture of the science involved and the values at stake.
  • The history of laboratory mice offers an entertaining, informative, yet unexplored perspective on the modern eugenics dilemma that simultaneously unravels the basic principles of genetics and illustrates how they have been abused previously in the name of human health and social betterment. The unassuming mouse, as it turns out, has much to teach us about science, but it has just as much to teach us about the humility and cooperative spirit with which we must steward that science.
  • Several successful books on genetics have been published in the past 5 years, but none have traced the history of the lab mouse, which brings together genetics, medicine, and eugenics in new ways.
  • Equal parts historical storytelling and scientific explanation, this book arrives at the current genetics dilemma by an untrodden path and argues that the scientific community must work with the public to determine how to wield its new genetic powers—a much needed message as scientific and technological barriers to eugenics continue to crumble.
  • In this book, I chart the little known history of how mice, of all creatures, rose to become the most popular model organism in biomedical research from their humble origins as pets sold by a retired schoolteacher. A key part of that history was the marketing of mice during the early 20th century as experimental models which could unite the new science of genetics and the practical field of medicine to elucidate the genetics of cancer and eliminate it through eugenic interventions. The eugenic aspect of this promise never fully materialized due to inadequate scientific understanding, but now that laboratory mice have granted us both unprecedented knowledge of genetics and eugenic technologies like embryo selection which are safe and voluntary, are we at risk of fulfilling the darker underbelly of the mouse’s promise?
  • In a fresh take on this issue, this book warns that arguments today against genetic engineering on the grounds of insufficient science and concerns about safety and autonomy are only temporary barriers which in some cases have already been overcome. What we really need is a conversation among scientists and the general public about the kinds of genetics interventions we will allow in our society. Through analyzing historical archives and scientific publications, this book contributes to that dialogue by illustrating how our current dilemma is an inheritance of the laboratory mouse’s eugenic legacy and how the story of this small creature reminds us that science is not a neutral project which exists beyond the values of the people putting it to use.

Book Details:

  • Author: Alan Yang
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Alan Yang

Alan Yang

Born and raised near Philadelphia, Alan Yang graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College with a degree in molecular biology and a minor in anthropology. At Harvard, he was co-editor-in-chief of a magazine called Brevia, which published short pieces (hence the name) on cutting-edge research from all fields in a way that was accessible to the general public. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to pursue an MSc in Immunology at University College, Oxford, and an MSc in History of Science at New College, Oxford, before returning to Boston to attend Harvard Medical School. He is a published scientist...
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