Biology Department calls squirrel eugenics project ‘a huge success’
By Matthew Martell
Published: April 1, 2010
Chuck is the first of a series of genetically enhanced “super-squirrels” to emerge from the Biology Department’s SQUEEX project. Garrett Mukai | The Spectator
After six months of field research and laboratory work, a group of Seattle University biology majors announced Monday that their on-campus squirrel eugenics project has produced a successful prototype specimen.
The project–code named “SQUEEX” (SQUirrel Eugenic Enhancement Experiment)–was first proposed in May 2009 by a group of biology majors and was spearheaded by junior Marc Massey.
“When I first moved to Campion as a freshman, I was struck by the number of tamiasciurus douglasii living around the building,” Massey said. “I looked at my roommate and said, ‘Wow, this is squirrel Eden!’”
Squirrel populations have long been stable and healthy in Seattle, but according to Massey, the focus of SQUEEX goes beyond merely monitoring and controlling the number of squirrels on campus.
“Squirrels have plenty of food in an urban area like Capitol Hill, but they also face dozens of different types of predators in such an environment,” Massey said. “All over and around campus, there are so many threats the squirrels have to face everyday. There are raccoons, Seattle Police segways, fashionistas looking for alternative ways to add furs to their wardrobes, drunk dodgeballers–it’s hard out there for a squirrel!”
Observing the squirrels’ interactions with these predators, Massey and the SQUEEX team wanted to give their fine-furred friends some added protection against their natural enemies in the Emerald City.
“We knew squirrel populations were at risk of a drastic decrease thanks to their small size and adorable little cheeks, so we decided to develop a eugenics program to provide them with an urban advantage,” said Lindsay Gossack, senior biology, chemistry and Spanish major. “So we made a list of traits we figured would help the squirrels continue to flourish on capitol hill: super strength, lightning speed, even more adorable cheeks.”
The team’s work toward creating powered up SQUEEX squirrels began in October, when Massey was dispatched to men’s basketball practices to collect genetic material for the prototype litter of squirrels.
“We were talking among ourselves when the project was first starting, trying to figure out what genetic material we could use to really make the SQUEEX squirrels as formidable as possible,” Massey said. “And it came to us: Charles Garcia. He’s by far the strongest man on campus. We knew we needed him.”
Massey offered Charles Garcia, also known as the Belizean Baller, towels at each practice whenever he started to sweat, and would later wring them out into beakers that he would immediately take back to the lab for genetic processing.
Massey estimates it took roughly 70 towel-beaker samples to gather enough DNA for the first SQUEEX specimen, but once enough of the genetic material was collected, the team set to work on cultivating their first super-squirrel, Chuck, named in honor of his genetic forefather.
“We didn’t really know what to expect with Chuck,” Gossack said. “We were all a little worried. None of us had ever bred a test-tube squirrel before, and we weren’t sure how human DNA would mix with squirrel DNA. It was just this crazy period of worrying, like, ‘What if only one of his cheeks is adorable? Or what if he comes out all tattooed and seven feet tall?’”
Fortunately for the SQUEEX team, Chuck was a success. Massey said the birth was unspectacular, but when he fully matured, he was an inch longer, twice as fast, three times stronger and four times more adorable than an unmodified Seattle U squirrel.
“Seeing Chuck for the first time was just a ‘Wow’ kind of experience,” said James Lewers, laboratory manager. “He was at once the most adorable and terrifying squirrel I had ever seen.”
Robert Rutherford, biology professor and faculty adviser for SQUEEX, was just as astonished as Lewers the first time he encountered the full-grown Chuck.
“When Marc first approached me with the SQUEEX idea, I said I’d advise the project and wished him luck, but I wasn’t really expecting anything,” Rutherford said. “But my God, when I saw that adorable little squirrel, I was so proud of my students. Their project is a huge success.”
But even as the Biology Department is hailing SQUEEX as a huge stride forward in the field of squirrology, other members of the Seattle U community are protesting the team’s work, calling it unethical and dangerous.
“They think they’re trying to make positive change in the squirrel world, but did they ever think of the possible ramifications of their actions,” asked Sara Bernert, senior creative writing and theater major and a long-time member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Their super-squirrels are going to wipe out their non-super peers. It’s simple Darwinism at work. You would think biology majors would realize that.”
Read Rest of Story Here : Biology Department calls squirrel eugenics project ‘a huge success’