Vol. 3, Issue 16, June 21, 2005
Disney Patents Anthropomorphic Animal Genome
In an unexpected move that has both the entertainment and scientific communities buzzing, the Walt Disney corporation has received a patent for what it calls a "baseline anthropomorphic animal genome."
"Disney has always blazed new trails in the frontiers of quality anthropomorphized animal entertainment," said Disney CEO Michael Eisner. "With this exciting advance from the Disney Genetic Imagineering team, we are proud to bring Walt Disney's vision of a unique world of entertainment into the twenty first century."
According to the patent, the anthropomorphic genome is a special modification of the human genome which readily permits the creation of variants based on other animals with the insertion of a very small amount of genetic code. Fifteen variants are specifically listed in the patent application, including rodent, waterfowl, and greater and lesser canine (Goofy and Pluto, respectively).
The unusual patent raises serious legal and ethical questions.
"This isn't the first time a genome has been patented, of course. Actually, over three million genome-related patent applications have been filed," said Joshua Gardner, professor of bio-ethics at Carnegie Mellon University. "What is very disturbing about this case is the fact that Disney has apparently managed to patent a range of variations, instead of just one. So, for example, if Warner Brothers were to try and patent a wisecracking anthropomorphic rabbit genome, it's not clear that they'd be permitted to do so."
There is also particular concern from costumed workers at Disneyland, who are concerned that Disney is going to replace them with genetically engineered creatures bred to look like the trademark Disney characters.
"Cast members at Disney World Florida are union members, but not us," said Tori Armstrong, a confidential informant who works the morning shift as Donald Duck at Disneyland. "We're always being told to stop complaining about the heatstroke from wearing these costumes, the poor pay, and so on. They really threw a fit when we asked for holes in the masks so we could poke a sandwich through every now and then. I mean, we're not supposed to take the masks off on duty, what are we supposed to do, starve?"
Surprisingly, there is little concern about the potential societal status of creatures created using the Disney genome.
"The assumption is that anthropomorphic animals would have essentially the same social and political rights as humans," said Gardner. "We seem to have no problem electing rats and snakes to office. Why not a talking mouse?"