Rebekah Morris

Life Expectancies

We all consist of genes trekking through our provisional carcasses like cars rambling along a freeway. The genes are like coded directions; they are the words written inside us. They are branded into us like a ranch owner brands his cattle. We live with these genes ruling us everyday, but remain blind to their jurisdiction.

Chromosome seven is inverted: you have a lobster claw-hand where a normal hand could have been, and a cleft where your ghost middle finger isn’t. Chromosome eight is rearranged: you have excessive hair on the shoulders, face, and ears. The “Werewolf Disease” has come out to play. The LMNA (Lamin AC) gene mutates, and your body grows at an alarming rate. It is called Progeria. You have about thirteen birthdays ahead of you.

In college I observed a fly lab in the biology floor of the science building, where I had never been before as an English major. The room and floor were both white, the room was smaller than I assumed it would be, and the twenty students crammed in and acted like flies themselves as they roamed from microscope to notebook to sink to cabinet to table. The fly lab’s purpose was to generate mutations through breeding. The students were supposed to find the dominant gene and multiply it. I thought the smell would dissipate after my nose inhaled the sterile formaldehyde, but every time I walked into the room my nose told me to walk back out. Every breath in was a gust of sterilization, or the maggot food necessary for amplifying genes.

Their eyes are white. The students expose the flies to X-ray machines to create this white-eye mutation. Once the students succeeded, the next assignment was to create as many white eyes as possible.

There are more than four hundred breeds of dogs in the world. It’s not enough though. We breed dogs to create mixes that will benefit just as we have evolved the iPhone from three to X. Do you want a non-shedding labrador? Maybe you want a smaller version of a Saint Bernard? Or the loyalty of a German shepherd mixed with the cuteness of a golden retriever?

We craft fashionable dogs, but at a cost. Dogs that are susceptible to eye problems are bred with dogs that are inclined to have hip dysplasia. The puppies are prone to have both. Bigger dogs are bred to be even bigger, and they lose years off their life expectancy. Golden retrievers on average live twelve years, same as the poodle. But goldendoodles live ten years.

Hybrid animals are the result of interbreeding between two animals of a different unit or taxa. Ligers are built from tigers and lions. Zorses are generated from horses and zebras. Zeedonks are fabricated from zebras and donkeys. While these animals captivate, and are even more exotic than the normal tigers, lions, and zebras, most of them don’t survive past adolescence. In the rare case that they do transcend puberty and reach adulthood, they often can’t produce their own babies.

You find out you are a carrier for cystic fibrosis, and so is your spouse. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease where thick mucus forms and affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure, and while many learn to live with it, the average life span is shorter than a normal human.

A dream of yours is to have a child. A cute, bundled-up, fat baby boy wearing blue to match his blue eyes, perhaps. But you and your spouse are both carriers of a hereditary disease. Are you willing to pass that gene along?

Science is used for discovery, to find developments that will benefit us. We experiment to find for x, whatever x may be. We found out bats use echolocation to navigate after cutting their eyeballs out and deafening their ears. An arthritis drug was safe for monkeys but harmful for humans. Mice, rats, bird, and reptiles are exempted from the minimal protection law under the animal welfare act. They go uncounted.

On the last day of my fly lab observation I glanced across the room and saw a lone surviving fly make its way toward the window, trying to escape to freedom. Someone walked in front of me, the fly was out of sight, and my eyes strained but I couldn’t find the buzzing black dot.

A fruit fly in the wild lives forty to fifty days. In that white room, the flies faced death on day sixteen. 


Rebekah Morris lives in the midwest. She is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at Goucher College, and works for a propane company to feed her cats and sustain her library. Her work has been featured in Make MN.