Thoughts from the front lines


How smart are pigoons?


In Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy, we have seen that she describes the pigoons as one of the smartest animals in the books. They know the rifle; they know to use the tactics and almost catch Jimmy one time; they know to distract humans’ attention so that they can get into the garden; they even hold a funeral for their dead companions, and so on. In one word, they’re sly. Furthermore, in the book Maddaddam, Margaret mentions the pigoons communicate with each other and they even want to communicate with the survivors of the waterless flood. One morning, they come to the humans’ place and wish to have a talk with them. Margaret says, “there are fifty or so in all. Fifty adults, that is: several of the sows have litters of piglets, trotting along beside their mothers. … a low level of grunting is going on, from pig to pig. If they were people, Toby thinks, you’d say it was the murmuring of a crowd. It must be information exchange’ but God knows what sort of information” (Atwood 267-268). This passage shows that the pigoons can exchange ideas with each other. It’s very strange. As we know, the pigoons have the brain tissues which are similar to humans’, therefore they are smarter than the ordinary pigs. But how smart are they? We don’t have the answer, but we can test out how smart the ordinary pigs are.

According to “The 10 smartest animals”, Science on NBC NEWS, the author says that the pigs are perhaps “the smartest, cleanest domestic animals known, even more so than cats and dogs”. The experiments of testing pigs’ intelligence even started in the 1990s. Furthermore, according to the neuroscientist Lori Marino of Emory University, “we have shown that pigs share a number of cognition capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins and even humans”.

Well, some of the intelligent animals are considered to have the same IQ level as a preschooler and even a little child (until about 9). It’s hard to think about the pigoons may have the same level of intelligence as our human children. I mean, maybe like your 9 years old little brother or sister. It’s incredible. On the other hand, I think it could be true because some of their abilities are beyond the scope of ordinary animals should have. So what do you think? Did you find any other clues in the book and in our real world to support or against this idea?



Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010. Print.

“The 10 smartest animals”, Science on NBCNEWS,               science/t/smartest-animals/#.WPwE8zsrJhG

Viegas, Jen. “IQ tests suggest pigs are smart as dogs, chimps”, Seeker,         1769934406.html



OrganInc: Fact or Fiction?

Behind Compound walls lies OrganInc Farms, a research facility dedicated to growing human tissue organs in pigoon hosts (or as the scientists might call them, sus multiorganifier). But is OrganInc simply a figment of Atwood’s imagination, or is it based off of a scientific reality?

According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, approximately 119,000 people – men, women and children alike – are on the U.S national transplant waiting list. In 2015, only 30,970 people were treated, and the number of people needing an organ transplant is ever growing. With so few organs being donated, research scientists have resorted to implanting human stem cells in animals to tackle this issue.

Biologically speaking, these animal hosts are really called “chimeras,” that is, “an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation.” Chimeric animals have been around for a while – scientists were producing chimeric mice in the 80s, hybridizing two species together, but have only recently begun experimenting with pigs.

Just a few months ago, in January, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies came out with a report detailing the growth of human-pig embryos – the first of its kind. They accomplished this feat by injecting human cells into a pig blastocyst, the earlier form of the embryo, and letting it grow in-vitro. Though the resulting embryo did not live for more than four weeks, Belmonte and his team made a large leap towards the approaching reality of interspecies organ transplants.


An illustration of the potential process for producing human organs in pigs. (Cell Press)

For the time being, pigoons still only live in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, but with recent advances in animal chimerism and the advent of CRISPR as a gene editing tool, pigoons will soon be a reality. Ethics aside, the need for more organs is and will continue to be a pressing issue for the coming years. 22 people die everyday due to the severe lack of donated organs in circulation. Is modern biology up to the task? One thing is for certain: OrganInc Farms is not as farfetched as it is made out to be.

Read more:

“Scientists Create First Human-Pig Chimeric Embryos” – BBC News

“Scientists create a part-human, part-pig embryo – raising the possibility of interspecies organ transplants.” – The Washington Post


Simone van den Berg, Header photo (pig)

Wu et al., Creating human-pig chimera embryos illustration