An Essay on the Dangers of Genetic Engineering

Best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver's passionate essay on why genetic engineering is such a profoundly dangerous, irreverent technology.

| August/September 2002

  • Humingbird in nest.
    Hummingbird in nest.
  • Wheat in field.
    Wheat in field.
  • A group of butterflies.
    A group of butterflies.

  • Humingbird in nest.
  • Wheat in field.
  • A group of butterflies.

Learn about the dangers of genetic engineering.

Reflections on Genetic Engineering and Manipulation of Life

In the slender shoulders of the myrtle tree outside my kitchen window, a hummingbird built her nest. It was in April, the sexiest month, season of bud and courtship displays, though I was at the sink washing breakfast dishes and missing the party, or so you might think.

Then my eye caught a flicker of motion outside, and there she was, hovering uncertainly. She held in the tip of her beak a wisp of wadded spiderweb so tiny I wasn't even sure it was there, until she carefully smoodged it onto the branch. She vanished then, but in less than a minute she was back with another tiny white tuft she stuck on top of the first. For more than an hour she returned again and again, increasingly confident of her mission, building up by infinitesimal degrees a whitish lump on the branch — and leaving me plumb in awe of the supply of spiderwebbing on the face of the land.

I stayed at my post, washing everything I could find, while my friend did her own housework out there. When the lump had grown big enough — when some genetic trigger in her small brain said, "Now, that will do" — she stopped gathering and sat down on her little tuffet, waggling her wings and tiny rounded underbelly to shape the blob into a cup that easily would have fit inside my cupped hand. Then she hovered up, inspected it from this side and that, settled and waddled with greater fervor, hovered and appraised some more, and dashed off. She returned with fine filaments of shredded bark, which she wove into the webbing along with some dry leaflets and a slap-dab or two of lichen pressed onto the outside for curb appeal.

When she had made of all this a perfect, symmetrical cup, she did the most surprising thing of all: She sat on it, stretched herself forward, extended the unbelievable length of her tongue and licked her new nest in a long, upward stroke from bottom to rim. Then she rotated herself a minute degree, leaned forward and licked again. I watched her go all the way around, licking the entire nest in a slow rotation that took 10 minutes to complete and ended precisely back at her starting point.

Passed down from hummingbird great-grandmothers immemorial, a spectacular genetic map in her mind had instructed her at every step, from snipping out with her beak the first spiderweb tuft to laying down whatever salivary secretion was needed to accrete and finalize her essential creation. Then, suddenly, that was that. Her busy urgency vanished, and she settled in for the long stillness of laying and incubation.

2/10/2015 10:15:59 AM

This is a great essay, but the typos made it very hard to work through and certainly not a writing to share with those of opposing thoughts. Please correct the typos and restore credibility to this important article!

2/9/2015 10:34:36 PM

I'd like to second Gentri's comment. This is a fantastic essay, but the typos make it embarrassing to share. It looks like a robot tried to translate it or something. Please clean up the text so that we can share this with our friends, family, and social network.

2/9/2015 11:04:29 AM

Ditto on the previous comments. Barbara Kingsolver's writing is as always, glorious and inspiring, but this is appalling and I doubt it's what Barbara intended to be published. Please MEN, edit this piece today, so more of us feel comfortable passing it on…(I Tweeted it anyway typos and all:)



Learn at Home!

Register now to get access to ALL current video workshops and prerecorded webinars plus anything new that we add through the end of 2020.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters