Then there are more philosophical concerns about, 'Is this unnatural?' and then, 'If it's unnatural, does that make it wrong?' And who are we to be, quote-unquote, playing God? That's a phrase you see all the time in the animal world. Are we sort of unleashing forces that we can't control? These are all questions that come up again and again.
At the root of it is the fact that this is new and high-tech. ... Things that are new are much scarier than things that are old. Things that are quote-unquote, technological are scarier than things that are, quote-unquote, natural. You have a lot of those factors wrapped together when you talk about something like genetic engineering.
CNN: Was there a particular species or experiment that intrigued you as being at the forefront of biotechnology?
Anthes: I think this world of cyborgs is really fascinating, and also very representative of the future. I think a lot of the early work in biotechnology was manipulating biology and the genes that are already there. I think the future in many ways is the mash-up of the living with the nonliving, the biotic with the a-biotic. I think we're really going to see, for lots of different reasons and in lots of different species, a growth of creatures that combine electronic bits and biological ones.
CNN: Such as the robotic bugs that you were talking about in your book (where scientists are studying how to turn an insect into a device that can be used to gain intelligence for military purposes).
Anthes: That's one very dramatic example, and I think there will be more of them. But I think there will be less dramatic kinds of cyborgs that will become more and more common. There are a number of therapies being tested for human disease that involve implanting sort of neuro-prosthetics in the brain, and (using) bionic prosthetic limbs. I think it's going to become more and more mainstream to come across humans or animals that have electronic parts wired into them.
CNN: What do you think are the greatest impacts on a person's personal life that may come from the latest biotechnology research?
Anthes: I think there's a lot of potential in this field of canine genetics, which is just growing like crazy. We're already starting to see some of it: There are commercial labs that can test your dog's DNA for less than $100, and give you information about what diseases it might be prone to and that can really help you make better medical decisions for your dog. I think this world of care and genetics may help us tackle the world of genetic dog disease, which a lot of research has shown is a huge problem among many breeds of dogs.
CNN: You say in your book that working to create genetically modified animals says something about us. What did you find to be the answer to that when you were done writing?
Anthes: I'm not sure there's one answer, but it reveals a couple of things.
It shows, for instance, that we imbue our pets with aesthetic value. Sometimes we want to change them just to look nice to us. Sometimes we want to change (animals) just to provide a better service to us, to produce better meat or certain kinds of drugs. Sometimes, we want to change them more out of altruism for their health.
It shows in some ways how complicated our relationships with animals are; that we simultaneously value them for what they give us, but that we also want -- or think we want -- them to have long, healthy lives for their own sake.
That was something I came back to again and again. The bottom line is that it reveals how complex our feelings are for other species. We don't want to see them suffer, and yet if their suffering gives us a cure for cancer, then maybe that's OK. It reveals that we're deeply conflicted about the role that animals play in our lives.