Fun Star: ‘What is a seawolf?’ chant soon to be obsolete

This article is a work of satire, so unbunch your panties, please.

Josh Hartman / Fun Star

The administration of UAA recently hired geneticists at UAF to genetically engineer a seawolf from the DNA of chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and wolf (Canis lupus). UAF graduate students have been tasked with completing the job, called Project Mascot-Splice, under Genetics Professor Naoki Takebayashi.

The UAA administration dealt with UAF geneticists to start Project Mascot-Splice in early January, knowing the Anchorage campus was ill-equipped to take on the task. While the graduate students have only been working for two-and-a-half months, they are ahead of schedule.

Part of the reason the project is coming along quickly is because of UAF’s new facilities at the Margaret Murie Building, home of the Biology and Wildlife Department completed in the summer of 2013, according to Daniel Pfalmer, the head scientist of the project.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re making good progress,” Pfalmer said.

The process of genetic engineering normally takes between four and eight years. While the geneticists are ahead of schedule, their task is more difficult than other genetic engineering projects because they will have to use two organisms to create an entirely new one

The chinook salmon and the wolf have very different anatomical structures and internal systems since they are a fish and mammal, respectively. The process to create the seawolf will require extensive testing, according to Pfalmer.

Most forms of genetic engineering take place by targeting genes for a certain trait and placing those genes in another animal. For example, in 2007 scientists in South Korea placed glow-in-the-dark genes into a cat producing a cat with glow-in-the-dark fur.

The UAF geneticists are also looking into the risks associated with genetic engineering. One of the main problems with genetic engineering is the risk of the new organism outcompeting natural organisms in the wild.

“The way that we’re engineering them is so that they will not be able to reproduce in the wild,” Pfalmer said. “The seawolves will be designed so that all of the organisms will be female”

The two dominant organisms used to create the seawolf are salmon and wolf, however, Pfalmer is looking at other organisms such as Reed Frog (Hyperolius viridiflavus) for more genes.

The graduate students will definitely not be including any bunny-rabbit (Lepus arcticus) DNA as a practical joke, according to Pfalmer.

Without the ability to reproduce, the new seawolf will not be able to compete with wildlife.

UAA’s administration hopes having a real mascot will help promote the university’s activities and further their objectives set in the Strategic Plan, which is posted on the UAA website and outlines UAA’s goals.

“[To] enhance student life on our campuses by expanding our residential life programs; increasing student involvement in co-curricular opportunities; and promoting academic success, civic responsibility, and personal growth,” are goals stated in UAA’s Strategic Plan 2017.

Due to the random nature of genetics, it is unclear what environmental needs the new seawolf will have. However, the UAA administration has released a statement saying they will hire UAF engineers to design and construct the new seawolf habitat when the time comes, which will likely be after UA President Johnsen’s Strategic Pathways plan removes engineering programs from the Anchorage campus.

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