Science-fiction style gene-modification discovery - what happens?

In the near future one of those unexpected scientific discoveries take place enabling people to relatively cheaply and safely re-write their DNA and as a consequence change their physical form, how does society change? The process works by receiving ‘donor’ or ‘parent’ DNA from another person, this DNA then merges with the original subject persons DNA gradually reshaping their body into their new appearance. It works on a similar basis to how a mother and father have a child with a mix of their original DNA but with the ‘donor/parent’ DNA reshaping the receiving persons genetic code directly ie: if you are white and you receive donor DNA from a black person you will ultimately take on a mixed-race appearance.
The procedure is relatively cheap, about the price of a decent second-hand family car, ie about $5000

Depending on how close the donor and subject DNA is the transformation may take from a month or so to a couple of years, eg a petite woman receiving DNA from a large well-built man will take much longer to change than receiving DNA from someone of similar appearance and build

It is almost entirely safe, complications are exceedingly rare

If you receive DNA from a younger donor your physical age will be reduced, for legal and ethical reasons donor DNA younger than 17 years old is not available from registered clinics. You can go to a black-market clinic, but then all bets are off.

The process can be only carried out once every five years (or greatly increased risk of said complications if carried out sooner) and it is less effective each time, in respect of age reduction at least.

Receiving donor DNA from a particular person, such as a celebrity, will not turn you into their identical twin, but you will possibly look like their sister, cousin, or other close relative.

In general XX over-writes XY, so a male receiving female donor DNA will become female. Female to male changes are possible, but more complex, expensive, and take longer.

There is no going back to your original form, even if your original DNA is saved beforehand it will then merely act as ‘parent’ DNA for your new form.
Personally I imagine there would be something of a market for desirable DNA, such as from a very intelligent or attractive person, so they could register and copyright their DNA to sell at a premium. DNA from an olympic athelete would also be popular, it would not automatically confer super-fitness, but would provide the genetic potential to achieve it. What about the justice system, would it be ethical to force a large aggressive man convicted of physical violence to accept a DNA transfer from someone smaller, lighter and less aggressive? What about identification, all procedures from legitimate clinics would be recorded but what about black-market clinics and DNA?

Just a few ideas, I would be interested to hear what other people think or if you personally would use it?

Its almost 1 am and I’ve been up since 6 am yesterday morning so I’m sure I’ve missed something, please be gentle. :wink:

This is just a little like the question of what shape you’d take if you could be a shape-changer.

What improvements to your genetics would you make if you had access to either sampling (from living persons) or re-writing (in the abstract.)

Preventing ageing is high on the list. Improving the immune system would also be nice. No more summer colds. (Ah-choo!)

Inky-dinky trivial stuff – I’d improve my digestion so as to have less difficulty with bowel movements. (Hey, gimme a break; I’m old.) I wouldn’t mind not having to shave every morning, and how about fixing up my bald spot?

Maybe enhanced intelligence. Maybe enhanced reflexes. Maybe extended-spectrum eyesight. A suite of very minor “super-powers.” Maybe. I don’t see any real need for 'em, and the benefits are marginal.

Being a nice guy, I’d like to have the universal donor blood type, and I’d also admire being able to donate bone marrow to any recipient, not just those with close genetic matches. I’d be donating as often as they’d let me. (I’m no longer allowed to donate blood. Damn. I gave thirteen gallons, but I no longer qualify.)

I’m not really interested in big flashy changes, like having six arms, or breathing acetylene, or being able to micromanipulate tools with an accuracy of a 1/100th of a millimeter. I would like a better memory, and to heal faster from injuries.

If Stephen Hawking is the donor, I’m gonna want to be EXTREMELY selective as to which part of his genetic sequence I receive!

Genotype > phenotype does not work this way. Almost all of the attributes that you describe arise during development. Even if we could alter the DNA in every cell in the body (not totally implausible), the mature body will not rebuild itself in response.

This, for example, is nonsense from a scientific standpoint - it’s just not the way biology works.

If you want a scientifically plausible fictional scenario, it should involve editing the DNA of a zygote, which would then grow into a mature human with the custom attributes.

I don’t know if it would work like that, by the time you are an adult your body isn’t going to radically change due to the introduction of different DNA.

Using DNA alterations of an embryo or zygote could radically alter life. However it isn’t the same thing.

What would happen if humans found some way to radically alter how we look/act as adults? I’m not sure. I think most people would all try to look the same.

It is, it was actually inspired by that thread, just a lot less extreme version of changing your apperance.

Thanks for the answer, the ‘universal blood type’ is particularly interesting, and a nice change from the downer misanthropic attitude so many people have around here.

In the scenario in the OP you can’t change your genetic make-up to have six-arms etc though, its more just merging your own DNA with existing genetics, you can’t choose which parts of Hawking’s DNA you would like for example :slight_smile: (though that’s a good point, I’m sure someone like Hawking would appreciate a genetic reboot physically, though he may not want to risk his intelligence even if the donor is also extremely smart)

What I described is really only a maguffin to set the scene, use nanotechnology or whatever other magical science fiction technology you like.

Yes, it was really only to set the scene, just thought it might be more interesting than just saying its basically technological magic.

I’m not sure what you mean by your last line, do you mean people wouldn’t change their looks or they would all try to look generically attractive in the same way?

Yup, I just always find it distracting when “science fiction” is utterly implausible. That to me is no better than making a character’s behavior completely inconsistent and implausible. Making it nanotech as you’ve suggested is way better – it might then be somewhat vague far-future technology, but it’s not in principle impossible or even implausible. You could go one step further, and have uploaded consciousnesses download into a body of their choosing at will.

Anyway, consequences…

This is like proposing a machine that can tunnel through the ground to the moon and calling it an “airplane”. Naming your magic after something real and not obeying the real thing’s rules = bad.

We don’t know what the “rules” will be of genetic modification a century from now.

(Heck, we don’t know what the rules will be fifteen years from now!)

Sure we do. We can be reasonably certain that there are no limits to genetic modificiation - that in 100 years we will be able to do any kind of genetic modification at will, since we can already do some.

But we also know that the body of a mature organism does not completely rebuild itself in responses to changes induced in somatic DNA, and never will. That’s simply not the way DNA works.

As we’ve discussed, there may be other ways that the body can completely rebuild itself, such as nanotech. But you can change genes as much as you want, and they will never have this effect.

Well, what about using viruses to carry re-builds to cells. Anything a disease can do to you, a designed virus can do also.

Just as one example, a carrier virus to re-program skin cells to produce more or less melanin: change the color of people’s skin. Every time you grow a new skin cell, it carries the new instructions. The patient would go from light to dark, or dark to light, over a lengthy period, but it would be a (modest) form of bodily re-building.

I admit it’s asking quite a lot to use this kind of method to allow me to grow extra arms…but is it absolutely out of the question?

To what degree does gene-work of this kind equate to (very slow) nanotech?

(Yeah, I really, really want those extra arms! Gonna be king hell on the volleyball court!)

Oh yes, I’m not saying you can’t do all kinds of wacky stuff. Synthesis is easy, forget melanin - I’m sure you could make skin cells manufacture peanut butter that oozes out the pores if you felt so inclined. And of course, subtle changes like making you stronger are also easy - although there’s little point in tweaking your DNA to synthesize a body-building hormone if you can just administer the hormone flexibly as a drug.

But in terms of rebuilding the fundamental structure of the body? Well, that happens through complex interactions during development. It’s just about within the realms of plausibility that you might make the mature body grow an extra set of arms solely through somatic DNA manipulation - the Hox genes that control body plan are “master control genes” that can add an extra set of limbs in model organisms with a single mutation. And there are organisms that regrow large amounts of their bodies - some friends of mine just published the genome sequence of a flatworm that’s being actively researched for this reason.

But, frankly, it’s hard to imagine that the best way to grow an extra set of arms is to do it this way! It would be relatively simple to manipulate a zygote’s DNA to develop in this way. But in a mature organism it would be extremely difficult to control and coordinate in any sensible and non-messy manner. I think nanotech and integration of inorganic with organic elements would be a better approach, and more plausible for sci-fi.

All this makes sense. We’re very much more in agreement than I had started to think.

I love the image of cells modified to exude peanut butter! (But, hey, how weird and wonderful is it that we have modified bacteria to produce human insulin?)

Another problem with growing extra arms is that my adult brain is probably not plastic enough to learn how to use them. I’d have to re-engineer my brain, too, to take it back to an infantile stage (no jokes from the peanut gallery, y’all!) so that it’s capable of learning to control the limbs.

(I’m sort of basing this on the analogy of adults, blind their entire lives, who somehow regain the capacity for eyesight…but still never really learn to see, because that part of their brain never got developed. The part of my brain that controls the extra arms has never developed. So much for superhero volleyball!)

As an analogy: If DNA were building plans and the body the building…

Once the building is constructed, the construction plans are put away in a drawer somewhere. Sure, you can do a complicate break in, and alter the construction plans. But it won’t actually do anything. The building is built, and no-one will look at the plans again.

You’d need to alter the plans during or before the construction (zygote) stage.

There are also maintenance instructions, which do stuff after the building (body) is done, and you can accomplish things by altering them, but not a complete redesign.

Fast, cheap, targeted gene splicing is close at hand already.

What others have noted is the sort of changing of genotypes resulting in large phenotype changes in the mature adult is a much less likely proposition.

However, certain limited changes could occur comparatively easily with the OP’s technology (and may soon happen with real world technology). Alteration of the CFTR gene resulting in functional chloride ion transport might not sound exciting, unless you or a loved one has cystic fibrosis, in which case it is a cure for a horrible disease. And since many cells in the lungs have a relatively short life cycle of just a few days to weeks getting these sorts of genetic changes into progenitor cells could cure a patient in a relatively short time frame.

Type I diabetes, sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease, or certain types of muscular dystrophy might be addresses by gene therapy in an adult.