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SHORT GRASS AND TALL ORDERS

Countless numbers of homeowners got an early Christmas gift this week -- or at least a promise of one -- with the news that scientists may have figured out how to make grass that doesn't grow very fast.

Don't run out and turn your lawnmower into a lawn ornament quite yet. It might take a few more years before these baby blades with stunted growth are perfected and approved for planting outside your house. But the thought of having to cut the grass once or twice a year is the perfect gift for those who would rather be out playing golf or tennis, walking or jogging or just lying by the pool.

Scientists believe they can pull off this modern miracle by tinkering with a single gene. That bit of manipulation essentially will produce a dwarf plant that resembles its big brothers and sisters in every other way but size.

OK, so this doesn't rate up there with the Salk vaccine. But not every scientist can be out looking to cure disease or feed the world. Somebody's got to do this kind of thing. And while we're thinking of it, we'd like to suggest a few more avenues of inquiry for researchers looking for ways to fundamentally change our way of life. How about gene alterations that will:

Cause snow to melt after it reaches one inch of depth -- except on ski slopes.

Make waiters and waitresses who bring a second glass of wine before you're finished with your meal.

Prevent football fans from walking in front of you just as a play is getting started.

Produce beef that can't be burned no matter how long you leave it on the grill.

Create teen-agers who don't think their parents are total idiots.

We know these are tall orders. But for now we'll be happy with the short grass, as long as it stays that way.

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