As a biology student, it was very hard for me to resist saying on Thursday what a human actually ‘is’. We are defined by our genetic code, not our actions. Our status as species Homo Sapiens is confirmed by our ability to produce viable offspring with other Homo Sapiens rather than other creatures. In biology, it is remarkably easy to disregard action and focus on solely DNA.
However, as I started really thinking about that, of course issues arose. Anyone with a mutation might be ruled out as ‘human’ in this case, even if they can reproduce. Likewise, someone without a mutation, but a disease that renders them infertile, might also be designated as not human.
At what point then, do we stop calling something human? Is there a percentage point match to the ‘standard DNA’ that was decoded in the human genome project? I stated in an earlier post that more than 99% of our genetic code matches that of mice, which is why they are used so often in research. If we were to put a percentage point on what counts something as ‘human’
Oryx and Crake addresses this issue throughout the book in terms of the pigoons. In technical terms, these creatures represent and offspring of human and pig (which do, incidentally, share 98% of our genetic code), as the genes are mixed, which would make the pigs human in biological terms (or vice versa if you want to be really cynical about it). The ability for the pigoons to reproduce (as seen when Jimmy encounters them in Paradice) on their own further solidifies their distinction as a real and viable species.
This is also seen in Battlestar Galactica with the *spoiler* birth of the cylon/human baby. The ability for Valerii to have a child at all suggests that she is in fact human, despite the fact that we are constantly reminded that she was built rather than born. While there are many moments throughout the show when the writers make the cylons come tantalizingly close to being humans, it’s this event that really questions the idea of their being a barrier between them at all.