Is Tom and Jerry one of your favourite children’s cartoons? How the diminutive Jerry outsmarts Tom every time is a source of glee and pleasure for many families. And how Jerry runs away from Tom and just manages to escape in the nick of time add to the heart-thumping excitement. However, as much as we like to see Jerry triumph over Tom again and again, a mutant mouse which is totally unafraid of cats is the stuff of science fiction and horror movie combined. But it is neither; it is a reality in our post biotechnological era.


Experiments by Dr Ko Kobayakawa and his wife, Reiko, at the University of Tokyo, Japan, have produced a mutant mouse which does not display any fear in the presence of cats. The nerve cells which trigger off fear in the mouse’s brain have been turned off using genetic engineering. The mouse, thus, approaches big cats without any sign of fear. Tests with foxes’ scent also excite no fearful response from the mutant mouse though normal mice run terrified into the corner of their cage.

Will genetic engineering bring forth more horror stories like this? While turning off the ‘fear’ nerve cells of mice may seem harmless enough, one can imagine the havoc this game of man can create in the balance of our ecosystem. Fish which have no fear of movements in the waters will be easy catch, not only for human beings but for sharks and other fish-eating predators. More tellingly, man, who has no fear of anything, is a sure recipe for disaster. Fear can be a wonderful thing. If genetic engineering does not sound off alarm bells in your head and send chills into your heart, you should think again.