Suresh Menon

Friday - - Contents - Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

The trans­par­ent mouse – clearly a silly idea?

And so now we have the see-through mouse. And be­fore all you com­puter users jump at me and say you al­ready use the see-through mouse on a daily ba­sis, let me has­ten to add: we are speak­ing of real mice, with heart, lungs, and all those other won­der­ful body parts in place.

Sci­en­tists at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy have de­vel­oped trans­par­ent mice, and the ques­tion that asks it­self, quite nat­u­rally is, why?

What’s wrong with the ones we have now, the ones that scurry about, cre­at­ing havoc? Build a bet­ter mouse­trap and the world will beat a path to your door, said Emer­son. Some­thing must have been lost in trans­la­tion be­cause we’ve built a bet­ter mouse while traps have re­mained the way they have been for years.

The ar­gu­ment sci­en­tists make is that this is the first step to­wards do­ing the same for hu­man be­ings be­cause their ba­sic bi­ol­ogy is sim­i­lar to ours. One pre­sumes, there­fore, that mice have hang­overs af­ter a party, fall in love with movie stars and the male of the species gets lost reg­u­larly be­cause they refuse to ask for di­rec­tions.

But can you imag­ine the con­fu­sion when the tech­nol­ogy is fi­nally used on hu­man be­ings? Beauty is only skin deep, we were taught at school. Now here’s a chance to have a sen­sa­tional pan­creas or an ali­men­tary canal to die for. You see the con­nec­tion? The fashion in­dus­try will now turn its at­ten­tion in­wards, with of­fers of bet­ter-look­ing lungs, more colour­ful liv­ers and so on.

Lady Gaga will give up wear­ing those strange things she does and will de­cide to… the imag­i­na­tion bog­gles. The red car­pet in­ter­views at the Os­cars will see the jour­nal­ist ask a star not who cre­ated her dress, but who painted her kid­neys. Af­ter all, if ev­ery­body can see your pan­creas, then there is some re­spon­si­bil­ity for mak­ing it look good.

There is another prob­lem, es­pe­cially in the case of mice. What­ever the

Af­ter all, if every­one can see your pan­creas, then there’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make it look good

magic for­mula or gel sci­en­tists use to make the outer skin trans­par­ent so we can peep in­side, there is the dan­ger of over­do­ing it. Sup­pos­ing the for­mula calls for 100 units of the mix­ture, and the sci­en­tist ac­ci­den­tally (or de­lib­er­ately, let’s pre­pare for the worst) ap­plies 1,000 units in­stead; there is a very real pos­si­bil­ity that he might cre­ate the world’s first in­vis­i­ble mouse.

That’s all these ro­dents need. In­vis­i­bil­ity – in a world where they cre­ate enough dam­age while be­ing vis­i­ble. The only good mouse is a dead one is an old dic­tum. Let me re­phrase that. The only good trans­par­ent mouse is a dead one.

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