Shrinking the Cat

Shrinking the Cat

Genetic Engineering Before We Knew about Genes

By Sue Hubbell; Liddy Hubbell (Illustrator)

Houghton Mifflin, Hardcover, 9780618040278, 172pp.

Publication Date: October 2001


We humans have been tinkering with genes for a long, long time. In Shrinking the Cat, Sue Hubbell shows how this tinkering is the definition of humanness by telling the stories of four important species we created. She tells how we made cats easier to live with by making them smaller and their brains less complicated, taking out much of the alertness that natural selection had packed in. How ancient farmers turned a wild grass into corn, a tremendously important crop that can't live without us. How silkworms were smuggled from China to the West and bred to be completely dependent on us. How silk traders picked up wild apples in their travels and how we manipulated the apple's complex genetics to grow only the best-tasting ones - and then made them taste worse. Today's tools are new, but we were engineering genes even before we knew about them, and we made some mistakes along the way. For example, the gypsy moths that regularly defoliate trees arrived through efforts to breed silkworms suitable to North America.
Genetic engineering is controversial today. Some see it as a source of great benefit and great profits; others see it as a nightmare. Sue Hubbell shows that if we ignore our own history, pretending that genetic engineering is something completely new and dangerous, we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.

About the Author
Sue Hubbell is the author of, among other works, A Country Year and A Book of Bees, which was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. She lives in Maine and Washington, D.C.