Scientists at the Southern California Animal Management University have created the first 'jigsaw fish' in a scene more fitting of a Mary Shelley novel than modern science.
Using multiple species of fish, and embracing the latest in nano-stitching medical advances, researchers have pieced together their first successful living construct.
"We’d tried for many years to work on mammalian phenotypes," states Dr Alistair Hoek, head of the program. "But what we’d end up with would be a torso with prosthetics, which is what we wanted to avoid."
Using simpler muscle forms – the myotome blocks of fish meshing together more easily than mammalian flesh – scientists were able to piece together the remains of no less than nine species to make the new animal.
Called 'Hern 66A' or Ern for short, the fish comprises the head of a Pike, but organs of a Barbel.
The flanks of the fish shift pattern, from the plain iridescence of Trout, right through to the bars of a Zebra moray.
It is understood that the brain is from a recently deceased Convict cichlid, explaining the fishes' oddly bellicose behaviour.
"Obviously, we’re hoping to sell this as a weapon," Dr Hoek informs us. "The US military tried to swipe the patent as soon as they saw what we were planning, but we have a good legal team here and managed to sidestep their advances."
Former efforts to create hybrid fish as weapons have notoriously failed on repeated occasions, and the institute has been wracked with controversy many times. Only in 2009 a handler was killed by an Arapaima with a grenade launcher grafted to its belly.
"That was unfortunate," Dr Hoek informs us. "The chap had come in on a non-uniform day dressed casually to help raise money for charity, and he had a picture of a catfish on his tee shirt, rather than using his regulation clothing. The fish saw that and associated it with food and, well, the rest you know."
"We never did find the head," he continues.
Further projects are planned for other Frankenfish variants in the wake of Ern’s success. The university hopes it can learn from this current project to create eels with huge anglerfish lures, a catfish that can fly, and a lungfish/shark combination that can bury itself indefinitely.
"Imagine the potential," Dr Hoek says, "of a man-eating assassin that can sit like a landmine, waiting for its victim to pass by. Unlike actual landmines that don’t discriminate, we can use the advanced smelling capability of a shark to recognise odours only of certain targets, and reactivate at the first whiff.
"We’ve already ordered some enormous switches to go on the wall for when we make it, and a few more lightning balls to go about the room. We want to be seen to be taking our work very seriously, and have reviewed hours of footage of other labs of our kind.
"Once we get our next batch of grants in, we’re even going to open a position of an official switch-flicker. Ideally, we’d be after someone like Marty Feldman, with massive, boggly eyes and a maybe even a hunch back, and he can cower in the corner of the room while the team scream 'It’s alive!' and high five each other."
UK scientists refused to comment on the work of the University, drawing our attention to Dr Hoek’s long history of mental distress.
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