Once Upon a Time


Once upon a time, rumour had it that we were at the top of our game –nothing else came close. Well, maybe chimpanzees, but come on –they don’t even have a decent language, so how would we know? Anyway, we had no real competitors, and –just in case- we wrote the rules and we were the judges. Until now, that is.

It seems that the pigeon cartel has moved in on mammograms and apparently there is a push to read pathology slides as well: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34878151  Now I don’t want to come across as a Speciest, or suggest that I  wouldn’t welcome a family of them living down the street or anything, but it seems to me that we have draw the line somewhere. Jobs are going to be lost; an industry is in jeopardy. I mean, why would we train people for years and go to the expense of kitting them out in those long white coats that need constant laundering when it would be so much easier to head downtown and pull a couple of pigeons out the park? So what if they shed their feathers? Do we ever have enough pillows? And diseases they might carry? Show me a pathologist who is sterile and I’ll show you a hologram. And besides, you don’t have to put the pigeon on anybody’s breast, do you? They are experts once-removed –twice removed if you kept the cages in another room altogether. Mind you, the cooing sounds would help to allay the anxiety over the anticipated and legendary pain of pressing a perfectly good breast into an X-ray sandwich so compromises may evolve.

Now, I can foresee some difficulties in training the birds to use the standard-issue microscopes, though. Some thought will have to go into new designs for the eye-pieces, I suspect. Oh, and wing-activated focussing devices, too. For years we’ve been selfishly designing stuff for fingers and spectacle-wearing eyes straddling long and often itchy noses; it’s long since time to start thinking beaks and feathers.

But utilizing pigeons may just be the first tentative step in revolutionizing medicine –farming it out, as it were. The article also whispers about glimpses of giant African pouched rats detecting tuberculosis –something to do with stuff they keep in those pouches, I’ll bet. In breathless anticipation of a bespectacled, stethoscope-wielding animal with huge teeth and accompanied by the characteristic snaky tail, I was relieved that Google only displayed the nice ones you could feed peanuts to -the cute ones that nobody would mind crawling over her chest looking for little bits of TB. And maybe with a few modifications they could be induced to do mammography kinds of quests and check for cancer while they’re in the neighbourhood. Maybe, if they caught on as pets, we’d have a lot less disease to worry about. Oh sure, there’d be other stuff –fleas, for example, and maybe plague- but everything’s a trade-off isn’t it? We could train people in turn to learn to balance risks. Decide what’s really important to them or their families. I mean, don’t we already do this with sports and their attendant injuries? You have to admit that a lot more of us suffer from concussions than die from the Black Death nowadays. And then there’s the whole panoply of traffic –related issues. Uhmm, did I already mention war?

No, we have to look further afield than we have to date: new answers; new questions, even. I don’t know… I suppose it’s only a dream, but I’ve always felt we would all be better off using what’s around us, rather than destroying it. Joining the web of life, not tearing it down. We are Nature, for goodness sakes.

Who knows, this refreshing outlook might spawn new and exciting industries… I didn’t actually mean to use the word ‘spawn’. We haven’t yet enlisted salmon in our quest for laboratory help, although their legendary ability to see underwater might be a real boon to public health infrastructures –in waste treatment and the like. But don’t hold your breath; it’s coming. We’ve barely even splashed the surface!

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