Download date: 15 May 95
Date: 15 May 95 21:11:39 EDT
From: Jo Grant
Subject: Genetic Engineering
The Science of Genetic Engineering has long been known in the Imperium. The first attempts at such were mainly along the lines of selective breeding, as practiced by many primitive societies. The first direct genetic manipulations occurred by selective enhancement and alteration of the DNA of various creatures. The Second Imperium was responsible for genetically enhancing both Orangutan and Dolphin DNA to raise them to a higher level of intelligence. The most advanced area of this field, genetic construction, includes the complete synthesis of totally new life entities from the ground up. The colonisation of the many worlds of the Imperium, most quite inhospitable, owes a lot to this sort of genetic engineering. Ecosystems have been created for worlds where none previously existed or had no time to evolve.
There was no Imperial control over what could and could not be done prior to the Genetic Manipulation Act, 194. The second Imperium was quite free with its experiments and constructions. There are a number of worlds inhabited by genetically altered humans originating from this time period. The popular vid-dramas of "Plutarch Assassins" are not complete fabrications. Historical data shows that those with money could have designed beings to suit their whim. Much of this was lost over the Long Night but in some places research continued without even the minimal restrictions of the Second Imperium. In the early re-awakening, efforts were made to recover as much material as possible and to continue the science. However, more and more worlds joined the burgeoning Imperium, and many of these had no controls placed on genetic manipulation. The results of unlegislated and undisciplined use of genetic constructions received dramatic media coverage.
On Agafo, a segment of Solomani supremacists took advantage of the relatively poor diversity of the Vilani gene set and engineered a killer mange that sought out Vilani descendants. This necessitated a 400 year quarantine. The planet of Emoue was taken over by the product of a government eugenicist project gone wrong. The planet was only recovered after much fierce fighting against the modified humans. An enclave of their descendants still exists; however, it is restricted to a series of islands and only allowed primitive equipment. This is for fear of their genetically induced militant tendencies. Attempts at autogenesis, cloning and memory transfer, occasionally bore fruit. This set a very disturbing undercurrent through the nobility and megacorporation officers, both of which rely on inheritance as a means of proliferation and change.
It was these and other similar incidents that swayed public opinion and persuaded Emperor Martin I to sign into law the Genetic Manipulation Act. Violations have and continue to occur, due both to scientific idealism and commercial incentives. This is a difficult arena to police. However, no major indiscretions have taken place and the weight of Imperial backing to the law has kept most activity strictly legal.
For example the Bondi, the nationalistic symbol was in danger of extinction due to the changing biosphere of the planet. Evolution is not a fast enough means of dealing with the often rapid changes that technology can bring. Here, however, Genetic Scientists stepped in and introduced changes to the lungs and respiratory systems of the animal to cope with the changes.
The more advanced field of Genetic Construction is quite different. Instead of dealing with existing genetic codes, a Genetic Engineer constructs them from the ground up. Completely unique creatures are thus devised. Most evolved DNA consists and a large variety of sequences derived randomly over time. Consequently there are large portions of their codes that add nothing to the organism and are completely irrelevant.
Constructed creatures, though, are much more efficiently tailored. Sometimes, extra space is used for comments or copyright notices, but often even the most complicated constructed organism seldom has more than 4 or 6 chromosomes. This fact actually makes it very easy to identify organisms that have been constructed rather than evolved. Their origin is quite evident through simple genetic analysis or often even a microscope. This specificity, though, limits the variety. If a constructed organism is given the ability for self reproduction the amount of parameters that can vary is quite limited. There is not the tolerance for random change built into evolved life. Consequently, constructed creatures left in a natural environment seldom evolve or mutate further, and are very susceptible to diseases or changes that were not engineered into them.
This, though, has its benefits. Often an organism or creature is created to fulfil a certain purpose or else produce certain results. Then, when it detects that it has accomplished its goals, it dies, or ceases to reproduce.
Biological organisms can be an advantage over more mundane constructs in certain situations. They can work, sometimes much more intricately than machines, and usually possess the capability of self-repair and often self-propagation. Most people are familiar with GrassfaltTM which often appears on space stations. This is genetically engineered turf that is tough, resilient and beneficial to artificial atmospheres. Other interesting examples are the varieties of painting slugs on the market. Their diet consists of paint and they have a built in compulsion toward symmetry. Given a blank wall they will cover it with intricate designs. These expand over the available surface area and then double back forming an ever changing tableau of art.
Scientific interests aside, genetic engineering has been used in the entertainment and leisure markets. Many exotic and unusual life-forms have been discovered on a variety of worlds. Through genetic engineering, it has been possible to domesticate and adapt these interesting creatures with temperaments and habits that make them suitable pets. A species of Feeweegro Tree Frog with a particularly melodious mating call was engineered and given a predilection for harmony. Two or more Harmonisers together will "sing" in counterpoint to each other in an ever changing melody taking as inspiration incidental sounds in their environment. Snatches of conversation, ringing phones, even construction work can be pleasantly accompanied if a quartet of Harmonisers is present.
In the field of genetic construction, designed creatures are not limited to those in nature. All realms of fantastic and mythological creatures can exist in reality. From living and animated stoles, to the conspicuous consumptive show pieces of evening suits made entirely of butterflies and sprites, the range is too diverse to cover here.
Although the law restricts the use of human DNA, it does not prevent the use of other primate DNA or constructs designed to look as human as possible. Constructs such as these range from decorative garden cherubs, to robot-like heavy labourers for mine work, to specialised "escort girls". Although engineered to react in as near human a fashion as possible, legally these are still animals and have no rights other than what locally passes as animal rights.
Needless to say, moralists on many worlds object to the more human-like constructs on ethical grounds. Determining an ethical basis has been shown to be an extremely grey legal area, however. The Empire does, however, support an Office of Sentiency. They administer special exams upon request to "potential sentients". If they pass, they are immediately declared sentient individuals and given all rights and accords due. As the subsequent litigation by the newly declared sentient against their previous creators or owners can be complex most genetic construction agencies are careful to produce constructs a fair safety margin below the usual limits. There are shady businesses that deal much closer to the limit for commensurate prices, but, fortunately, they are the exception.
The history of Genetic Engineering in the Imperium has been a wide and varied one. This article can only serve to give an overview and we encourage the interested reader to follow their own references.
Her licence is in the box, and indicates that she is registered as genetically engineered chimp stock, although anyone with admin-1 will suspect the licence. A medical examination shows she appears to be the victim of severe mental and (non-damaging) physical abuse.
Based on some follow up work on an off hand comment made some years ago, she has discovered that one academic institute he has been funding is unofficially involved in genetic research. She wishes them to investigate further and expose whatever is being hidden.
Hailing it will produce no results but if they physically approach it and look through the windscreen they will see a woman on the other side. She will respond to them but is obviously unfamiliar with the controls and will have to be talked through everything.
When rescued she will say her name is Mlini and she will say she is fleeing a local industrialist claiming to be her husband. She will offer the characters Cr 10,000 to take her out of the system. If they seem hesitant she will double the offer.
If the players take her up she will confess, once in jump, that she really has no money. She will appeal to them to let her work for her passage. After some time the characters may notice a few odd things. She appears physically perfect, intelligent and naturally sophisticated. However her knowledge of the world in general seems particularly lacking. (She has a UCP of FFFF2A)
Another official will inform them that one of the products the company produces is genetically constructed fighting automatons for sale to high calibre mercenary brigades and world governments. Unfortunately four of these have broken their training and have escaped to the planet.
Their current whereabouts and intentions are unknown. They are close to their genetically programmed shutdown date and, if they are aware of this, are likely to be desperate. Their mission is to seek out and put down the automatons.
Date: Tue, 16 May 1995 14:20:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: Mark Clark
Subject: Re: Genetic Engineering
Bravo, Jo! A most interesting and informative posting - I will incorporate the material into my campaign.
Two comments. First, is the omission of the Gene War (Solomani & Aslan, p. 28) deliberate, or did you not have access to this reference? It explains a great deal about the attitude toward genetic alterations within human space.
Second, I enjoyed the adventure seeds, but the last one was rather too close in form to the movie Blade Runner. Why not make the group escaped accountants, for a change of pace, with the secrets of money laundering in their heads? Oh well, I guess we need at least one adventure for players with big guns.
Again, great post - thanks a lot!
Date: Wed, 17 May 1995 14:08:26 +0100 (BST)
From: Julian Love
Subject: re: Genetic Engineering
Hi everyone! First post from a long time lurker...
Jo - just saw your post on genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is one of the areas of Traveller that IMO is extremely underdeveloped. It is one of the fastest moving areas of scientific research today, but almost no mention is made of it in any Traveller material. IMO genetic technology will shape future societies at least as much as computing or even star travel.
While I think it is great to get ref’s to consider genetic ideas, under your Genetic Manipulation Act of 194 the Third Imperium would actually be banning much of the research we do today. More work is done on human genes that those of any other species. To ban the manipulation of human DNA would prevent scientists from using the most powerful methods they have for curing disease.
Human DNA is copied and cloned to produce artificial enzyme replacements that are identical to the natural products. Human growth hormone, insulin, and blood clotting agents are already produced in this way, and the Human Genome Project hopes to allow far more disorders to be cured in this way.
At the limit of current technology is gene therapy, where therapeutic genes are directly inserted into diseased cells using a modified virus. At the moment experiments have only been partially successful (and yes, some of these experiments have been on humans), but it is seen as a very promising technology that will be ready in a decade or two. Of course, at the moment there is no legal precedent to say what you can and cannot insert. You don't have to insert a disease curing gene. For example an army might make its troops resistant to biological warfare agents, or parents may choose to have higher intelligence for their children. This is still fantasy at the moment, but the possibility will be with us A LONG TIME before the 57th century.
Currently, genetics is moving faster than the law. You may have read about the wrangles the European Patent Office has been going through with researchers (usually corporate ones) trying to patent human genes. Many of them have been allowed to. The European Parliament is still arguing about whether it should be allowed.
Some of the ideas you gave I thought were great, especially the 'painting slugs'. As for disallowing the manipulation of Human DNA, cloning is common in MT (doesn't Strephon himself have a clone?) and I remember an old White Dwarf article way back giving ideas for cloning, transplants, memory transfers etc for CT. I quite agree that there will be tough legislation concerning what and what isn't allowed, but IMO it would be more along the lines of disallowing the modification of certain traits (eg those affecting personality, although these may be used to rehabilitate criminals).
As for genetically engineered species, they will certainly contain less genetic variation than any natural one, but natural selection would still have an effect once some of the DNA changed (either through mutation or errors in replication), and some artificial species may well be constructed to allow evolution to take place (eg by giving it plenty of 'junk' DNA, a short generation time, and redundant copies of many essential genes, so that if a mutation renders it non-functional then a spare copy is present to ensure the individual survives)
Other artificial species I can think of: microbes to clean your teeth, dustbins that consume the rubbish put into them, and an extension of the terra-forming worms might be organisms that help convert the atmosphere into one more suitable for settlement.
The adventure seeds were great. An idea of my own...
The players are hired by some covert operatives from a balkanised world. They want the players to steel genetic technology from a rival country that they believe it is using to develop biological warfare agents.
1) On infiltrating the research lab the players manage to capture samples of viral strains being developed for an upcoming offensive. Great care will have to be taken on their escape to ensure the virus is no released into the atmosphere (dodge those bullets...).
2) The biological agent is actually a bacteria that excretes strong acid as a by-product of respiration. Reactive metals (ie what most of the lightweight alloys that weapons, starships etc are made out of) are corroded by the bacteria. Inadvertently one of the players carries some onto their ship...
Hope this was interesting. As I said before, raising awareness of the genetic technology that will be present in thousands of years time I consider is very important to getting the 'feel' of what the far future would be like. Many people don't seem to be aware of what we can actually do today.
Thanks for listening.
Date: 18 May 95 9:41:07 EDT
From: Jo Grant
Subject: Genetic Engineering & Genetic Surgery
Julian Love makes several well put points...
>While I think it is great to get ref’s to consider genetic ideas, under
>your Genetic Manipulation Act of 194 the Third Imperium would actually
>be banning much of the research we do today.
There are two subjects that I don't cover in my article at all: "Genetic Surgery" and "Cloning". My definitions of these:
The "Genetic Manipulation Act, 194" is not meant to prevent the former. True, you could not, in theory, clone bits of the Human DNA to produce stuff but you could construct DNA strands that do the same thing. There is no ban on introducing alterant DNA strands to a living organism, human included.
This doesn't prevent the work and research being done, it just moves it from the field of Genetic Manipulation to Genetic Construction. Not a problem for planets that have reached the TL for construction. Maybe we're seeing the commercial backing by the Core Higher Tech worlds for the GMA, 194 :-).
Cloning is not covered by the Act at all. Planets already have a wide diversity on the outlook of cloning. Some have all of their citizens cloned and raised communally (al la Paranoia), others consider it morally evil. The only things prevented by the Act is the tampering of the DNA of the clones before they are born.
>As for genetically engineered species, they will certainly contain
>less genetic variation than any natural one, but natural selection
>would still have an effect once some of the DNA changed (either
>through mutation or errors in replication).
It seems to me that Genetic Constructs are not going to do well with any change, mutation or error. If you compare DNA to a computer program. Natural DNA is like a huge (LISP?) program with lots of junk and replication all over. If a bit of the program gets corrupted (mutated) it is unlikely to destroy things. Occasionally a corruption might produce a beneficial side effect (Oh, I like that new colour!). This is evolution.
A Genetic Construct, though, is like a computer program that has been optimised, EXEPACKed and runs as a self-extracting ZIP file :-). If even a bit is changed it is most likely to completely blow the program out of the water. In extremely rare circumstances it will not have a harmful effect, and in very very rare cases it might be a benefit.
If this is a true analogy, my argument is that a Construct is going to be much less likely to get a beneficial mutation. So evolution of them is going to be a long, long, process. Perhaps the Imperium has studied this using the Vargr as examples. How much are the constructs and how much are they manipulations? How much have they evolved since creation?
>Other artificial species I can think of: microbes to clean your
>teeth, dustbins that consume the rubbish put into them, and an
>extension of the terraforming worms might be organisms that help
convert the atmosphere into one more suitable for settlement.
Some of the players in my campaign have "caught" something called a "bio-suppressant virus". This lives in symbiosis with your body. Sort of like a super-charger. It can much more successfully extract poisons from your blood stream (like alcohol), store energy for later release, fight disease, etc, etc. The effects have been a raise in endurance and a faster healing rate (also almost limitless longevity but it will be a while before they figure that one out :-).
TL 21 stuff, but from what I understand, possible.
Date: Thu, 18 May 1995 12:38:09 +0100 (BST)
From: Julian Love
Subject: Re: Genetic Engineering & Genetic Surgery
On 18 May 1995, Jo Grant wrote:
>Julian Love makes several well put points...
>(Would "Gene Therapy" be a better term?)
Yes, gene therapy is what we call it today, but the term 'therapy' might be a bit misleading by Traveller times when many of the alterations might not be therapeutic, but just cosmetic, or enhancement of already healthy traits (intelligence, stature, etc).
>Cloning: Creating exact copies of existing organisms. The "Genetic
>Manipulation Act, 194" is not meant to prevent the former.
I get your point. TL 8 is the start of the genetic revolution, when humans are first able to clone, sequence, and cut DNA, leading to a number of important diagnostic and therapeutic methods.
By TL 9 gene therapy is common for a number of diseases, and by TL 10 it would be simpler to construct artificial DNA from scratch rather than cloning it from sequences of human DNA (as you don't need the piece of human DNA to start with). Of course, if you are working from unknown sequences, you still need to have some original DNA to clone.
>This doesn't prevent the work and research being done, it just
>moves it from the field of Genetic Manipulation to Genetic Construction.
Construction of simple artificial organisms would be about TL 10 IMO, ie tailored microbes and viruses that immunise, cure, or alter some other aspect of their host. By TL 11 technology would move on to simple multi-cellular organisms, which could be large but have a uniform composition (eg GrassfeltTM to clean up your ship).
At TL 11 the first complex organisms would appear, in order to make new worlds suitable for colonisation, as pets, sport, and even game animals (a la the genetically altered polar bears that the Prince Regent has a scrape with in Elite 3: FFE), or to replace endangered species on certain planets.
>Cloning is not covered by the act at all....
Why ban the alteration of a clone's DNA before it is born, when it can then use gene therapy once it is alive? To alter the DNA while it is only a zygote (ie just a few cells) you save yourself a HUGE amount of time and effort, as you only have to modify the DNA of a few cells rather than the trillions that make up an adult. I fail to see the difference between the modification of DNA before or after 'birth'.
The same argument goes for gene therapy itself. If a culture will accept organ transplants as ethical, then logically it must consider gene therapy as ethically sound, as they both involve the insertion of foreign DNA into the host (the organ is, after all, merely an expression of the DNA it contains).
>A Genetic Construct, though, is like a computer program...
For manufacturing complex organisms, why start from scratch when nature has already done millions of years of work for you? Take the natural DNA of a well known species and insert the genes you want to make your new organism out of. IMO this is what the Ancients would have done with the Vargr. BTW, I imagine the Vargr were a hot topic for genetic research (whether they liked it or not) once it was realised that they were an artificial species. By first contact with humaniti (First Imperium?), TL 11 humans would be dying to get their hands on the results of that sort of technology - they could learn an awful lot. And of course the Vargr themselves.
(Hmm...interesting. Kidnapping Vargr for genetic research, with Sentient Rights activists trying to bomb your lab. Just a thought)
>Some of the players in my campaign have "caught" something called
>a "bio-suppressant virus"...TL 21 stuff, but from what I understand, possible.
A lot sooner than TL 21 IMO. Human ageing is essentially caused by two things (as currently believed). 1) The deactivation of 'housekeeping' genes that continually run in the background to ensure cell multiplication, replication, differentiation etc, and 2) the gradual inability of DNA repair genes to combat mutations that occur within the lifetime of the individual, which then lead to cell death, tumours, or cancers. Figuring out how to sort them out would be tough, but only about TL 13-14 tough, I think. Still, imagine what a player will do when he's 400 years old and the nearest TL 14 hospital is on the other side of the subsector when the therapeutic virus in his bloodstream gains a mutation and he starts to age at the rate of a year a day (artificial viruses are already known to pick up mutations and pieces of DNA from their hosts and interaction with natural viruses)