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Synthetic Babies

Last post, someone asked whether we've gone beyond molecules to engineer development of an organism. Molecules are what runs development--molecules made by genes. Consider the homeobox HOX genes (which Charlie mentions in Glasshouse). The same fundamental set of HOX molecules turn on development for the fruit fly, the mouse, and the human.

Picking a drug-producing bacterium off a bar counter is one thing. But would we pick a baby because it makes one molecule?

We already do. Suppose your child has an incurable defect, a single broken gene that fails to make one protein. In some cases, the child can be "cured" by stem cells from the umbilical cord of a matched relative. To get the stem cells, you fertilize in vitro, and grow the embryos in a dish. Then pick the one with the right gene that makes the right protein. So that embryo gets implanted, and when s/he is born, the umbilical cord blood cures the sibling. But what about those other embryos in the dish?

In The Highest Frontier, parents pick genes to make their kids look like Paul Newman; and so the entering class is full of Newmans. But to make synthetic babies, why stop with what's human? I once asked Francis Collins, before an audience of a thousand industrial chemists, whether we should improve humans using chimp genes, since the chimp has a stronger immune system. He gave me a look of horror, then took the next question.

Whatever genes we choose, cord blood won't always do. Suppose it's a brain defect, or a cancer? Then we need to carry the gene in with something really good at infecting cells--HIV. The main media refused to actually name AIDS virus for several weeks; it took a comic strip and SF blogs to say it. Of course, the lentiviral vector can't be one that actually causes AIDS; it has to be stripped down and modified for safety. The way you make it safe is (1) gut out the AIDS-causing genes, (2) add animal virus regulators, such as from woodchuck hepatitis virus and cow respiratory virus. Just hope you're not a woodchuck.

Would you like to have chimp genes to fight cancer and malaria? Or maybe kudzu genes for antioxidants?

53 Comments

1:

I would find it invaluable as an engineer to be able to see magnetic field lines:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/06/21/humans-have-a-magnetic-sensor-in-our-eyes-but-can-we-see-magnetic-fields/

Seems we might already have the gene, maybe just activate it or make it more active instead of need a genetic insertion from another...

2:

What are the odds that chimpanzee the same genes that give a chimpanzee it's stronger immune system also negatively impact chimpanzee cognition (compared to humans)?

Assuming no detriments to human cognition or longevity, heck yeah I'd rather have better genes, regardless of origin.

I always wondered why blue whales weren't studied for finding better human cancer regulating genes. That's a lot of cell divisions to get correct.
-Steve

3:

Well, I take my cues from modern agriculture, where there's a big fight on about the use of genetically modified organisms.

Here are the problems I see:
1. Who owns the technology and the genes? Recently, a soy bean farmer in Illinois was sued by Monsanto for owning a bean sorter. This old-time device allowed farmers to process some of their soy crop for planting in their fields the next year, following age-old agricultural practice. Monsanto sells GM soy beans every year to the majority of Illinois soy farmers, and they claim that the only use for a bean sorter is for farmers to pirate Monsanto's technology--the modified genes in the beans. Worse, even when farmers opt out of Monsanto soy, Monsanto claims that bees could carry GM pollen to other beans, and therefore their technology would be pirated.

Therefore, I'd expect the corporations that made such modifications to require all humans bearing those genes to be sterilized, and buy embryos from them for implantation (probably using the very expensive IVF technology already available). I'm not keen on any corporation owning the means of human reproduction.

2. Monocultures. On other threads, we've already talked about the problems faced by the Irish with the potato famine. This needs to be compared with Andean potato farmers. Potato blight is native to the Andes, but it's not a serious problem there, because there are hundreds of potato varieties in the ground. Diversity is less productive than a monoculture, but it's also far more resilient. I'd suggest that resilience is more valuable to a rapidly changing society than productivity.

In the scenario of widespread human genetic modification, I'd expect a few gene mods to be overwhelmingly common (due to utility and/or marketing), and the problems those gene mods face will strain or overwhelm the medical resources needed to take care of them. These problems could range from epidemics to common cancers (as with many dog breeds) to, say, autoimmune diseases cued by some obscure but pervasive environmental factor. In general, monocultures tend to be brittle and fail spectacularly, and I'd hate to see humans go that way.

3. Epigenetics: genes are, of course, complicated. I'd love to know what happens when epigenetics gets involved too.

That said, I can see some public-health use for fixing specific genetic defects. For example, common cancer mutations, predispositions to heart disease, etc. might be cheaper to fix than to treat. However, it might be easier to do this with a virus injected into an infant, rather than fixing it in an embryo and implanting the embryo.

As with current public health medicine (vaccines, antibiotics, and so forth), I see no impetus for Big Pharma to develop anything like this. Currently, they're apparently barricading the board room doors and firing the technical staff en masse in a desperate attempt to stay profitable. Releasing products that help humanity reduce costs are probably very low on their list of desirable products at the moment.

In sum, I guess I'm pretty pessimistic at the moment. Better to do it the old fashioned way at the moment.

4:

Chimp genes? No way! Not when salt water crocodiles have an immune system that doesn't let them get cancer, and that's about a gazillion times better at fighting off infection than anything else.

And I wouldn't mind upgrading to the compound eyes of a mantis shrimp while we're making improvements.

5:

It's not genetic, but while we're on the theme of self-improvement, did you know that it's possible to teach yourself to see polarised light?

http://www.polarization.com/haidinger/haidinger.html

Never managed it myself; the main training tool is a big sheet of polariser, which I don't have.

6:

Hmmm.... how about fixing some genes for enzymes like Urate oxidase and L-gulonolactone oxidase, which only broke fairly recently in evolutionary terms. No more gout. No more scurvy. What could possibly go wrong?

7:

Makes me think of Richard Thieme when he talked about how our children will be hacking themselves to tails and stripes. The fun of freaking out the older generation with the DIY home-biogenetic kits.

8:

I've managed to see haidinger's brush, although it was smaller than I expected. You can do it with polarized sun glasses, especially if you have a loose lens from an old pair.

9:
And I wouldn't mind upgrading to the compound eyes of a mantis shrimp while we're making improvements.

I would. I do not want to lose the ability to recognise pictures and movements on computer screens...

10:

The short answer is, of course, yes.

11:

Awesome, now I know what to do after I've taught myself echolocation

12:

I would not want to tinker with my genes -- we know *nothing* about too many aspects of our physiology[1] -- but I would gladly read reports on human genetic experimentation.

[1] Take kudzu genes and antioxidants -- I believe there is evidence that some tumors can sequester antioxidants for their own benefit.

13:

How would we test the efficacy/safety of these genes? I cannot see how we could ethically do this. Repairing defective genes - yes. But inserting non-human genes? Not with our current value system.

14:

It isn't always a simple question of importing or turning on and off certain precise, single genes. Most diseases and/or beneficial conditions and/or useful growths are the result of a multitude of genes interacting together and with other factors.

There isn't a gene for intelligence and/or a gene for stupidity, for instance.

15:

>But inserting non-human genes? Not with our current value system.

Actually, our current value system is to do anything that saves a life. People have already accepted baboon organ transplants. So why not genes?

And for plastic surgery, they go to ridiculous extremes. Echolocation and magnetic field sensing sound much better to me.

>Most diseases and/or beneficial conditions and/or useful growths are the result of a multitude of genes interacting together and with other factors.

Yes, you're right about multiple genes interacting, and lots we don't know. We molecular biologists still have job security.


16:

>But inserting non-human genes? Not with our current value system.

Actually, our current value system is to do anything that saves a life. People have already accepted baboon organ transplants. So why not genes?

And for plastic surgery, they go to ridiculous extremes. Echolocation and magnetic field sensing sound much better to me.

>Most diseases and/or beneficial conditions and/or useful growths are the result of a multitude of genes interacting together and with other factors.

Yes, you're right about multiple genes interacting, and lots we don't know. We molecular biologists still have job security.


17:

I respect Francis Collins as a scientist. I'd say that your question rubbed his evangelical Catholicism the wrong way.

I asked Ian Wilmut at the end of a lecture, who had, along with Keith Campbell and colleagues at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh in Scotland, cloned the sheep "Dolly", if an Islamic country would probably be the first to reproductively clone a human being. I'd determined that while several times teaching a college-level course on human cloning technology and ethics. He agreed that it was likely, as Islam is, if anything, pro-cloning, then stated his personal horror at the notion.

If I may now wander off-topic, I want to thank you, Mr. Stross, because your advice on how to complete a novel, with both intellectual and emotional closure, has saved my Kosher bacon several times in the past two years. By far the most productive fiction writing month of my life, this September I've written 166,950 words of fiction, equivalent to 4.17 metric-SFWA novels of 40,000 words each. While writing the 1,200+ page biotechnothriller trilogy Alzheimer's War, I started and completed two other novels this month, both serialized on my Facebook wall.

WaterMagic began 4 Sep 2011 and was completed 17 Sep 2011, at 188 double-spaced pages, and 48,400 words.

Lonelyheart Locusts began 20 Sep and finished 6 (!) days later, 26 Sep 2011, at 190 pages, 52,550 words including References with the 5,500 word concluding Chapter 11 “My Sin, my Soul” posted and reposted on my Facebook Wall this morning.

Thank you for guiding me by example and patient explanation, Charlie!

18:

Monsanto's handling of GM crops is rather blatant. Here in Britain, there was a system of plant-breeders' rights developed in the 1950s, which worked pretty well for a long time. The plant breeders made the money needed to make the breeding of new varieties viable, and the farmers could still produce their own seed.

It still works pretty well in agriculture, where the effort in breeding a new variety and producing the seed is pretty obvious. But the rules don't require any formal proof of the breeding work, and there are reports that the system is sometimes abused in horticulture.

It may be an unusual instance of IP law, in that it largely came out of the agricultural community, a world with a different approach to creating and copying. There's a value in a genetically good bull, and farmers will pay to use those genes. But the idea that the genes can be locked away in the way Monsanto tries to do is risibly unnatural.

19:

Natural or unnatural, Monsanto's done an excellent job of regulatory capture, since they've got former staffers on the US Supreme Court (Clarence Thomas) and in the agencies that regulate them. This is one reason the US laws work the way they do.

While "what genes would you want to add to make yourself better" is a fun question, the commercial and regulatory context surrounding it makes it a lot less fun. I'm not anti-GMO per se, but the way it has been commercialized leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It also makes for some fairly devastating social impacts on rural America.

More to the point, we're talking about science fiction as much as science fact, and Monsanto-style monopsonies can certainly play out in science fiction. Ask the question of who wants to get stinking rich from their genetic invention, and that's where the motivations start.

For example: can you get gene mods from more than one company? Or do they attempt to lock you into a closed garden a la Apple? If you're a happy mutant, what do you do if $BigCorp patents your genes (see the case of Henrietta Lacks, among others). Do you even get to reproduce? What if genehacker culture becomes viable, and companies attempt varieties of copy protection (possibly through the use of epigenetics, hiding crucial genes in viruses, viroids, or organelles, or having some sort of encryption system that only their patented ribosomes can read?

And so on.


20:

I would be concerned that any direct genetic modification of humans be tested thoroughly before clinical use, especially if the mods are to epigenetics where there are undoubtedly more subtle failure modes than would occur with genes that directly code for protein synthesis. But I can't see any reason not to use "non-human" genes; after all we got all of our genetic makeup from our ancestor species, and many of our genes are found in a wide range of organisms. As you say, Professor, the HOX complex appears almost identically in several phyla, and whatever it is that controls the failure of telomeres over time must be common over a large part of the animal kingdom (not a recommendation, I know, that's one it might be good to eliminate, if possible, but there must be some reason why it's been conserved).

21:

Just a thought. Back when DNA was new I read that human and one chimps genes were closer than horse and donkeys. They make mules. So it would be easy to mate the right chimp and a human. Its been years, but I think I remember the idea right. Why anyone would!! BUT A REAL BAD GUY IN A BOOK.
A good clone takes many tries to get it right. And even then its not that right. The errors come out with age, I think.
There is a lot of junk DNA in us, how much is really junk? And how much is activated as needed. At least one bad disease in all our DNA but only comes out in some.

22:

@ 17
Plant Breeder's Rights
As you say, it used to work.
Now, the EU has crawled to big Agribusiness, and the whole system's fucked.
Another reason for me becoming anti-EU (I grow a lot of vegetables)

A lot of the "anti-GM" activism actually translates (rightly) to: "We don't trust big M"

23:

Urate seems to be an anti-oxidant in the body. The primates live longer than mammals of similar mass who convert urate into allantoin and thus have lower levels of Urate. Losing that gene may be involved in us living longer than one would expect. Gout is indeed a considerable nuisance, we may need to acquire better regulation of re-uptake of it in the kidney, so as to poise ourselves at the most effective concentration.

24:

Surely we should be looking at the naked mole rat instead? Not just cancer-resistant, but lives 3-10 times as long as other rodents of its body mass?

25:

I do not want to live in the world you seem to want to create. Especially not once it starts evolving beyond your control.

26:

Would you like to have chimp genes to fight cancer and malaria? Or maybe kudzu genes for antioxidants?

Question is analogous to "would you put electronic parts in yourself?" and "would you have sex with an alien?". Question is "under what circumstances should we effect which changes to ourselves?".

Question reduces to "what is good?". Issue for ethicists, not scientists. (This is in no way meant as a disparagement of science; this is merely a highlighting of the is-ought problem.)

27:

>I read that human and one chimps genes were closer than horse and donkeys. They make mules. So it would be easy to mate the right chimp and a human. Its been years, but I think I remember the idea right. Why anyone would!!

Here's why: To "save" the endangered chimps.
Suppose the chimp population gets critically low and a primatologist wants to restore the population. She inseminates herself and other volunteers. The resulting "children" are supposed to grow up and mate with the few remaining chimps. But will they?? Actually, this novel would almost be mainstream.

All my Elysium books, starting with Daughter of Elysium, have gorilla-hybrid characters as an ethnic group.

28:

Um, chimpanzees have 48 chromosomes, humans have 46. Due to meiotic mismatch, a humanzee hybrid would be effectively sterile, as with a mule (horses have 64 chromosomes, donkeys have 62).

The lesson here is that it's not just the genes (which are quite similar as noted), it's how they're lined up on the chromosomes. Just as you couldn't use mules to save wild donkey species (some of which are very rare), I don't think humanzees are a viable way of saving chimps.

Incidentally, gorillas have 48 chromosomes, as do orangutans, so that hybrid is even less viable.

29:

Naked mole rats are cool, but you need to think in environmental time, which is measured in degree days. They may not be as long-lived as you think.

The reason is, naked mole rats are effectively ectothermic, and use behavior to thermoregulate (as reptiles do). Their metabolic rate varies over time, and they go dormant (equivalent) pretty regularly.

A better way to understand this is with plants, where their metabolic rate is varies with temperature and degree-days (days above a certain temperature) is the important variable, not days.

An example: which is older, a 2000 year-old redwood or a 4,000 year old bristlecone pine?

Chronologically, the bristlecone is older. In environmental time, it gets more interesting. The White Mountains get above freezing about 3 months out of the year, so the bristlecone is metabolically active In environmental time, the bristlecone has lived 500 years, while the redwood has lived 2000 years. The redwood is older.

It may be similar with naked mole rats.

30:

Actually the cross could work, because two of the chimp chromosomes line up with one human. Fertility might be reduced, but fertile offspring are possible. Think how the two species diverged originally; there had to be hybrids then, during the first million years or so, before chimps and humans completely diverged.

As I recall, horse and donkey hybrids are occasionally fertile, and lion/tiger hybrids are certainly fertile.

31:

I think you could produce a humanzee embryo, although it made Wired's list of Seven creepy experiments and is unethical, if not illegal. I'm not sure a human/gorilla hybrid would work at all.

The problem is that a humanzee is going to be a mosaic of both parents, not a blend, and whether it's bones, muscles, eyes, or teeth, there are differences in the way chimps and humans develop. A humanzee would have all sorts of developmental problems. Just for starters, I would expect a humanzee to need some fairly major dental surgery. Chimpanzee teeth in a human jaw? Not a good fit. Neither are human teeth in a chimp jaw. A humanzee might also have substantial problems with back, hips, and feet, and I have no idea what the skull would look like, given the difference in face/cranium ratios between adult humans and chimps.

Even assuming a humanzee was viable, it would be hard to get a humanzee 2nd generation offspring, because you need meiotic failure to produce a viable zygote. Yes, it has happened with mules, but so rarely that it makes the news. And there are a lot of mules out there. As a conservation strategy for chimps, humanzees are not viable, and that's even without pointing out that chimps have more genetic diversity than humans do, so you have to look at what it is you're attempting to save that way.

As for lions and tigers, they have the same chromosome number (2n=38) so the fact that hybrid offspring are somewhat fertile is unsurprising (although they were thought to be sterile until the 1940s). However, no one has ever bred ligers to ligers or tiglons to tiglons. The successful crosses have always been to one parent species (typically the lion), and typically only one backcrossed cub survives, where their parents have litters.

32:

"Actually, our current value system is to do anything that saves a life. People have already accepted baboon organ transplants. So why not genes?"

Completely different. An organ transplant is a repair of a broken subsystem that has very limited unforeseen effects beyond the transplant. Inserting a new gene from a different organism will a priori have unknown developmental effects. Without a predictive model, how can this be allowed to be done on humans? It would violate the "first do no harm" doctrine.

Consider that gene insertions are very hit and miss in model organisms like E. coli and yeast. You want to insert novel genes into humans? We will need very good models of development to predict outcomes.

When that happens, and we can be very sure of the outcome, then I will change my opinion. I just don't see how we get to there from here without unethical experimentation.

So I doubt very much our culture would allow this. A different culture under different challenging circumstances is another matter.

33:

I would expect a humanzee to need some fairly major dental surgery. Chimpanzee teeth in a human jaw? Not a good fit. Neither are human teeth in a chimp jaw. A humanzee might also have substantial problems with back, hips, and feet

Hey, that sounds like me, a Polish/Italian hybrid. Actually, geneticists blame a lot of our dental problems on today's diverse intermarriage.

Everyone knows incest (breeding too close) is a bad thing. Less well known is that too far outbreeding is also detrimental. Genetically, your best marriage partner is a second cousin. And many traditional preindustrial marriage customs tend to lead to that.

All you say looks correct, except for "mosaic" which I think would be a chimera of two distinct chimp and human embryos smushed together. That actually might work; it's been done for a sheep/goat (published in Nature). The chimeric "geep" was pretty sorry looking, IMHO.


34:

A better way of "inserting new genes into humans" is to work on human symbionts. Note that this primarily works in the gut and blood, but even there, we can make some interesting differences. For example, it would be great to create an efficient pathogen for Cholera that could live in the human gut.

Or a lethal mosquito parasite that lives harmlessly in the human bloodstream.

Or, since some enteroamoebae can cocoon bacteria without eating them, conceivably you could create an amoeba-based gut bacteria library, and use it to repopulate a gut after an encounter with anything from antibiotics to traveler's diarrhea.

35:

A better way of "inserting new genes into humans" is to work on human symbionts.

Yes, those are all great ideas. The human gut microbes are now considered an organ of the human body; and their genes are part of the human microbiome. "Fecal transplant" cures C. diff. and inflammatory bowl disease.

36:

Since many of my friends and family are in interracial marriages (typically asian-white), I get to see a lot of their children. That's why I said mosaic. They have an interesting mix of features from both parents, rather than a half-way blend. Siblings can be very different, depending on whether they have the mother's or father's eyes, nose, mouth, hair color, head shape, etc.

It's also fascinating watching young half-Asian kids grow, because their eye shape changes every time you see them. Sometimes the epicanthic fold is more pronounced, sometimes less. The mix is highly variable, too: one Asian friend was repeatedly mistaken for her kids' nanny, because her young children looked "white" and she is Vietnamese. Now that they're older, they look more like her.

Anyway, what I see is a mosaic of features, and that's why I called it that instead of a blend. Every child is like this, it's just more pronounced in interracial children.

37:

I haven't seen this points come up (maybe I missed them)

If whoever is doing this human gene-manipulation is a for-profit organization, they will need to do something about the life-span of their product (a human body). After market saturation, how can you get buyers for your new models? I say rather than mess with germ cells and embryos, it makes better sense for gene-pushers to sell somatic upgrades, retrovirus packets that will make some of the cells in your body develop the new characteristics. Better (from the perspective of copyright-conscious merchants) would be to create an artificial cancer, a community of cells that slowly grows to replace the ones you were born with. Upgrades would be easy, no-one would complain about polluting the human gene-pool, and getting accidentally or illegally infected by designer genes would be less likely.

38:

The challenge with cancers is that human immune systems are pretty good at killing them. We only see the cancers that beat our immune systems, not the dozens-hundreds that our bodies successfully fight off.

Not that your idea is impossible, certainly. In fact, they've experimented with years using viruses to deal with genetic diseases, with varying results.

The bigger problem with human embryo upgrades is that, following current medical procedures, you need to demonstrate that they're safe first. As you pointed out, that could take generations. Genemods might catch on first in hacker cultures, illegal organizations, military spec ops, and similar, but it will only become mainstream if we get so good at simulating human growth that researchers can simulate the effects of a genetic modification in silico and convince every regulator that it's safe.

39:

Earlier comments reminded me of Human Chimerism, before reading Prof. Slonczewski's mention. Looking it up on Wikipedia, to make sure I was remembering correctly, ended up at Parahuman (which I hadn't heard of). Seems human/animal embryos have been created, though they are animal eggs with human cells added. Presumably the reverse would be possible, though I'd guess that the results would be rather random, currently at least.

40:

Rich families lave breed too close and it seems to work if done right. As with animals the key is not letting the ones with the things you don't want to breed back. Is it practical on a mass bases. I don't see how. Only in old SF.
In old times breeding too close was common just because of the size of the breeding pool. I remember a living history of England were people told of how things had been. A visiting nurse said that buses were the biggest thing. They allowed kids to marry out side. She said that chained morons kept in the kitchen were no longer a fact of rural live.
Now when you have trade, the country gets better as a whole. Outsiders breed into the pool. And I wonder if the out side blood helps.

41:

Yes, the different number of chromosomes is a problem. But it's not an insuperable problem or all animals would have the same number, simply because the first offspring that had a different number would totally fail to breed, and therefore it would count in evolutionary terms as dead end genetics.

So, it you can get fertile crossbreeds between (say) 46 and 48 chromosome parents in nature, you should be able to cope with it in a laboratory situation.

42:

Depends on the organization. After all, chromosomes do break and/or fuse (which is how you go from 48 to 46 chromosomes). Right when a change like that happens, it will result in a fertility decline, but it's (probably) not a huge crisis. It's later on, when genes have been reorganized on the separate chromosomes, that things start getting messier.

Incidentally the human chromosome 2 is a fusion of ape chromosomes 2a and 2b, just so we're talking about the same event.

But that's not the end of the differences. There are major inversions on at least nine chromosomes between chimpanzees and humans (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimpanzee_genome_project).

I'm not going to dig much deeper into this, but my guess is that, when you have trouble lining up ~40% of the chromosomes in a human/chimpanzee hybrid, there are going to be development problems, starting with mitotic failures and going from there.

43:

PEOPLE ARE FULL OF ANIMAL RNA IN THEIR DNA. The Insanity Virus
Schizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. Wrong, says a growing group of psychiatrists. The real culprit, they claim, is a virus that lives entwined in every person's DNA.
by Douglas Fox
From the June 2010 issue; published online November 8, 2010 discover magazine
"...When the lemur reproduced, that retrovirus rode into the next generation aboard the lucky sperm and then moved on from generation to generation, nestled in the DNA. “It’s a rare, random event,” says Robert Belshaw, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford in England. “Over the last 100 million years, there have been only maybe 50 times when a retrovirus has gotten into our genome and proliferated."...
">>>But such genetic intrusions stick around a very long time, so humans are chockablock full of these embedded, or endogenous, retroviruses. Our DNA carries dozens of copies of Perron’s virus, now called human endogenous retrovirus W, or HERV-W, at specific addresses on chromosomes 6 and 7...."

44:

If all you need is a sheet of polarizer in front of a light source, the LCD screen of a laptop will do just fine.

Of course, a laptop screen won't help if your purpose is to check your answers in the natural world (e.g. on sky, clouds, reflections from water).

45:

Sure. Could you throw in some prehensile feet, while you're at it?

46:

Endogenous viruses:
Yes, our genomes are full of endogenous retroviruses and virus-like sequences, as much as 50% of the genome. Today, people can get infected with a herpes virus and (rarely) pass it on in the genome to the next generation.

I don't know of viral genes causing insanity however. There is some statistical evidence that schizophrenia is associated with toxoplasma encysted in the brain; that would be a microbial effect, not genetic.

47:

>Could you throw in some prehensile feet, while you're at it?

Lois Bujold's book Falling Free is about engineered people with four arms, enslaved to work in space.

48:

Years and years ago (May, 1979), Analog had a short called "A Twice Toed Tale." (Several years after that, I got the reference.)

The story was about the uproar caused by people starting to engineer their children to have legs again.

49:

My son is a research clinical psychologist specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia, so I asked him about that retrovirus theory when I first heard about it a few months ago. He said it's an interesting idea, but as far as he can tell there's no real evidence for it as yet.

50:

Gene Mods? Sure , as long as they are in the stable-as a-diamond 22th generation stage.
Not the 1st-2nd "OH s--t RUN!!" monster from "Splice" stage.

If you want some truly well thought-out gene-mods I suggest checking out John Scalzi "Old Man's War" Greenie Mods.

51:

In The Highest Frontier, parents pick genes to make their kids look like Paul Newman; and so the entering class is full of Newmans

I can believe parents would gene splice their kids, even that they'd make them look like celebrities, but Paul Newman? Baby boommer much?

52:

you know how you feel when someone who is new to your field of specialization makes comments that are totally stupid, and that should have been taken care of at the 1st year grad level ?
As a PhD in molecular biology, thats a little how i feel about this post
Lentivirus vectors: they scare me sh**less. I'll stipulate that they don't have any of the things that cause AIDS; however, they are used cause they enter cells promiscoulsy, and then after a little Rev Transcriptase and so forth, they integrate their genomes...even with no INT gene, you are running one hell of a risk,basically random insertion mutagenesis of the human genome.
Chimp immune gene
whenever you look closer at any biological process, it gets more complex. The human immune system is an incredibly complex system that balances lots and lots and lots of different demands; you start tinkering with one part, god a lone knows what will happen.
Of course, if it is somemthing like DES, the wonder drug, only your kids will know for sure.....

bottom line: sure we know a LOT more about the human body, at molecular and cellular and organ levels then we did even 5 years ago, and the increase in knowledge since I graduated college (1978) is almost un believable (curves showing the cost to sequence DNA over time show a faster then moores law drop)
but this isn't relevant; what is relevant is how much we need to know to do things like engineer the human body successfully, without DES like side effects (DES was a morning sickness pill given to pregnant women; 20 years later , their daughters developed cervical cancer...not good)

53:

I dont know much about Neanderthal genetics but it seems that interbreeding ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_admixture_theory )is a practical possibility. Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon had the same number of chromosomes to start with though which makes everything a lot easier of course..
It's interesting to note that no Neanderthal mitochondria have carried over to Eurasians. This might mean that only male Neanderthal and female Cro-magnon gave fertile offspring.

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