Frankenstein's Cat Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts

Emily Anthes

Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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Winner of the Advancing Science, Serving Society/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books for Young Adults

For centuries, we’ve toyed with our creature companions, breeding dogs that herd and hunt, housecats that look like tigers, and teacup pigs that fit snugly in our handbags. But what happens when we take animal alteration a step further, engineering a cat that glows green under ultraviolet light or cloning the beloved family Labrador? Science has given us a whole new toolbox for tinkering with life. How are we using it?

In Frankensteins Cat, the journalist Emily Anthes takes us from petri dish to pet store as she explores how biotechnology is shaping the future of our furry and feathered friends. As she ventures from bucolic barnyards to a “frozen zoo” where scientists are storing DNA from the planet’s most exotic creatures, she discovers how we can use cloning to protect endangered species, craft prosthetics to save injured animals, and employ genetic engineering to supply farms with disease-resistant livestock. Along the way, we meet some of the animals that are ushering in this astonishing age of enhancement, including sensor-wearing seals, cyborg beetles, a bionic bulldog, and the world’s first cloned cat.

Through her encounters with scientists, conservationists, ethicists, and entrepreneurs, Anthes reveals that while some of our interventions may be trivial (behold: the GloFish), others could improve the lives of many species—including our own. So what does biotechnology really mean for the world’s wild things? And what do our brave new beasts tell us about ourselves?

With keen insight and her trademark spunk, Anthes highlights both the peril and the promise of our scientific superpowers, taking us on an adventure into a world where our grandest science fiction fantasies are fast becoming reality.


Praise for Frankenstein's Cat

“Smart, funny and deep: Frankenstein’s Cat is a report from the frontiers of the scientific campaign to re-engineer animals to fulfill human desires. At the same time Anthes, whose love of animals shines through on every page, takes her readers on a rich and challenging quest of self-discovery: what rights do the animal objects of our creativity possess—and what obligations to them and to ourselves must we accept as we reshape (again!) the living world? A great read.”—Thomas Levenson, Professor of Science Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of Newton and the Counterfeiter

“In a fascinating romp through laboratories, barns, and pet stores, science journo Emily Anthes interviews the innovators pushing biological limits, and offers elegant explanations of neuroscience and genetics.”—Ryan Jacobs, Mother Jones

"[Anthes] colorfully explores all the fascinating and in some cases gruesome ways humans are reshaping the animal kingdom . . . She thoughtfully pleas for reasoned contemplation and discussion rather than knee-jerk reactions."—Jon Entine, Forbes

"Fascinating, sharp and a bit scary."—Kat Austen, New Scientist

"A profoundly hopeful and often funny book about how the dividing line between human, animal and machine isn't as clear as you night think . . . This is a must for animal lovers, as well as anyone curious about the future of biology."—Annalee Newitz,

"Anthes eloquently explores the arguments framing the debate."—Luba Ostashevsky, Nautilus

"A lively, engaging, and intensely researched overview of where animal science has gone in recent decades and where it might go. All who value both human and animal welfare may think it worth their while to give it a read."—Rick Docksai, The Futurist

“[Anthes] has a gift for blending reputable science with humorous anecdotes in a sparkling writing style that makes reading this book a real delight . . . The book bubbles with provocative bioscience and fascinating examples of important advances that are presented in a witty and absorbing fashion. You will be introduced to a wide range of emerging technology that has compelling applications to future health care . . . It is a gem of a book . . . pick it up and enjoy a peek into this brave new world of biotechnology!”—Oncology Times 

“The great merit of Frankenstein’s Cat is its balance. It could have been a gee-whiz paean to the genius of genetic engineers. It could have been a soulless expose of the bizarre features of its subject. It could have been a cry of fright at the possibilities unleashed by scientists in this field. Anthes, often humorous but never insensitive, portrays their products neither as masterpieces nor as monsters. What she does say, in many different ways, is that we must understand the consequences of genetic engineering and be prepared for them practically, philosophically and ethically—not after the startling and perhaps irreversible fact, but in advance.”—The Valley Advocate (Massachusetts)

"Witty and intelligent . . . If Anthes had simply opted to flit from one biotech vignette to the next, Frankenstein's Cat would be impressive enough. But she gives us much, much more, straying at every turn to reflect on historical precedents to these brave new beasts and to ponder the troublesome philosophical and ethical questions they raise."—Henry Nicnolls, BBC Wildlife

“Charming . . . the science is accessible and so, mercifully, is the ethics . . . a breezy introduction to a complex and controversial issue.”BBC Focus

“With wit, high intelligence, and a lively writing style, Anthes portrays the new world of biotechnology—in which we control the bodies and brains of other animals—and the moral and philosophical issues so raised.”—Alan Lightman, bestselling author of Einstein’s Dreams

Frankenstein’s Cat is smart, lucid, and full of surprises. There was hardly a page that didn’t contain something new or unexpected.”—Anne Fadiman, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

“Emily Anthes gets the balance just right . . . There are brilliant stories of the entrepreneurs who want to bring glowing fish and remote controlled cockroaches to market, contrasted with the potentially lifesaving work of ‘pharmed’ animals modified to produce medicine in their milk . . . Always enjoyable, a page-turner of a popular science book with a surprise around every corner.”—Brian Clegg, author of Inflight Science and The Universe Inside You

“An elegant tour of the wild and fraught sideshow of animal biotechnology . . . Learned, entertaining and illuminating.”Kirkus Reviews

“The book is a quick, often surprising review of current advances, giving accessible treatment to a weighty subject and employing clear descriptions of complex science. Anthes not only explores what is being done but also asks why and if it should be done. Along the way, the book reveals much about humans and our connections to animals and the world we all inhabit.”Booklist

“Animals are fascinating if reluctant soldiers in the biotech revolution, writes journalist Anthes in this witty and thought-provoking book.”Publishers Weekly

In the Press

Don't Be Afraid of Genetic Modification -
We shouldn't let political calculations or unfounded fears keep safe genetically modified animals off the market.
Frankenstein's Cat: cyborg roaches, glow-in-the-dark animals, and other biotech beasts. [PHOTOS]
I have seen the future of animals and it is glowing. Literally. Three years ago, I set out to explore the world of animal biotechnology, to see just how scientists were using advances in genetics, electronics, and materials science to totally re-engineer and re-invent animal bodies. I discovered that researchers...
Tracking the Pack -
Modern communications technologies are reshaping our relationships with other species.
Beyond Frankenstein: Costumes for the Science Savvy | Work in Progress
Frankenstein's monster is so passé. Especially when you consider all the strange new creatures that scientists have breathed into being in the two centuries since Mary Shelley's "wretched devil" took its first lumbering steps. This Halloween, retire your Frankenstein costume and dress up as one of these brave new beasts instead.

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

1. Go Fish

To an aspiring animal owner, Petco presents an embarrassment of riches. Here, in the basement of a New York City store—where the air carries the sharp tang of hay and the dull musk of rodent dander—is a squeaking, squealing, almost endless menagerie of potential pets. There are the spindly-legged lizards scuttling across their sand-filled tanks; the preening cockatiels, a spray of golden feathers atop their heads; and, of course, the cages of pink-nosed white mice training for a wheel-running marathon. There are chinchillas and canaries, dwarf hamsters, tree
Read the full excerpt



  • Would You Cuddle A Neon-Green Cat?

    Emily Anthes on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show: Emily Anthes, science journalist and author of Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts, looks at biotech animal "alterations," like the cat with a neon green nose.

  • The Leonard Lopate Show: Cyborg Insects and Remote Controlled Rats

    Researchers are beginning to understand how to “hack” the central nervous systems of certain animals in ways that would allow us to control their movements—including a flying beetle which can be remotely steered. Emily Anthes, author of Frankenstein’s Cat, looks at the potential applications, as well as the ethical considerations, of remote controlled animals.

  • PBS Newshour: From Glowing Cats to Robo-Bugs, Book Explores How Biotech Creates Weird Wildlife

    Ray Suarez talks with writer Emily Anthes about the sometimes wild and weird outcomes when scientists experiment on animals. In her new book, "Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts," Anthes looks at the ethical limits of -- and our emotional reactions to -- the use of animals to explore biotechnology.

  • Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me! Bluff the Listener

    The panelists tell three stories about the secret lives of cats.

  • Google Talks: Emily Anthes

    Emily Anthes, author of Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts discusses the pitfalls and potential of biotechnology.

  • Emily Anthes at Google Talks

    In Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts, Emily Anthes takes readers from Petri dish to pet store, exploring how the world's fauna are being reinvented. She searches for the revolutionary breeds of beasts that are slowly taking their places in the world. What do these creatures look like? Who is behind creating them? What do these new scientific superpowers mean for animals? And what do the ways in which we're choosing to shape animal bodies say about humans?



  • Emily Anthes

  • Emily Anthes is a journalist whose articles have appeared in Wired, Discover, Psychology Today, Slate, Scientific American, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She holds a master’s degree in science writing from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in the history of science and medicine from Yale. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her dog, Milo.

  • Emily Anthes Nina Subin
    Emily Anthes