Thursday, December 3, 2015

Goodbye to Species

It has been noted before in other posts that the genetic grand transition in alien civilizations is going to be the most revolutionary. All are revolutionary, and all have claims to be the most revolutionary, but for us at our stage of development, the genetic one may appear to be most impressive in the changes in the civilization it will entail.

The genetic grand transition involves understanding the genetic code and ontology well enough to create whatever type of organism is desired. Organisms will be conceived of with specifications, and then the genetic code designed to produce them. Gestation machinery or some generic biological gestation organism would be used to bring the designed organism from egg to birth, or hatching, or whatever the organism is programmed to do to initiate independent life.

Biological infrastructure appears to be possible as well. Biological factories were discussed, but a biological dwelling or pumping station or many other things are equally likely, and we do not have enough background to foresee what the limits of these might be.

Intellos, meaning intelligent creatures created to perform tasks in the alien civilization, are also clearly possible, and part of the revolution in an alien society would be to determine how to utilize these, and what rules would be needed to regulate their use, and creation and disposal. We are not used to thinking about intelligence as being decoupled from citizenship, but there would be no reason after the genetic grand transition to link these two. One is a result of genetic programming and the other a bestowal of rights and duties.

Deliberate speciation
of the citizens themselves would be an option they could choose. After improving their species with naturally occurring genes and artificially created ones, they might find a chromosomal rearrangement is necessary to go further in providing capabilities or eliminating vulnerabilities in their own species. Then, there is a new species and the interaction of the new and the old will contribute to the turmoil that the genetic grand transition brings. They may have different species for different planets and satellites in their home solar system, or even different species on the same planet. The choice is theirs. What happens to the old species, the left-behinds, is also an interesting question.

One novel aspect that has not been discussed is that the alien civilization may leave the concept of species behind. Species is the method that evolution used to grade fitness and give some contestants a passing mark, while flunking others. More explicitly, different species survived for different periods of times in different locales and environments, and then went extinct, being replaced by other ones. It is a useful construct for evolution. After the genetic grand transition, aliens may choose to do something completely different.

We on Earth are quite familiar with the concept of chimera. This is a living organism that has non-uniform DNA coding. Humans occasionally have it, with the mixing of cells at an early stage of embryonic development between either fraternal twins or between the mother and the child. It raises havoc with DNA testing, but otherwise the person is often able to function without being detected as a chimera. Some animals have it as a matter of course. We graft trees, which is a very blunt way of making a chimera.

In some chimeras, particular organs have one type of DNA code while another has a different DNA code. This results from the embryo having cells with the different types of DNA mixed together, and a cell which is the first to differentiate into one organ carries with it its own DNA, resulting in the whole organ being of that type. Another cell may differentiate into a different organ, while carrying with it a different coding of DNA. Chimeras are made in biological laboratories now, as the resulting organisms are quite useful in experiments.

Animal chimeras cannot be made so easily as plant chimeras, by grafting, because the animal immune system, not having grown up with a particular type of cell, attempts to destroy it. But chimeras for animals done at the blastocyte stage or thereabouts do work readily.

Animal chimeras could be used by aliens for many purposes. It could be that an ideal combination of genes for one organ is not so ideal for another, and if the ideal combination was used for each of several organs, a chimera with even better characteristics could be created. This is simply carrying the concept of improving genetic coding to a further step. Instead of having the best genetic code for an organism as a whole, each major organ has its own optimized genetic code. It might be possible for the coding for one type of organ to be eliminated from the DNA for a different type of organ, meaning that the DNA for each organ would be highly simplified, and only contain the DNA for itself, and perhaps some DNA relating to the connections between it and neighboring parts of the body, or the body structural units, such as the blood flow, or whatever passes for blood in the aliens.

The construction of such a multiple chimera might be done industrially, with some creation of the component cells done separately, and then a fusing done when they are all ready to proceed to form an embryo. Alternatively, it might be possible to depart from the whole concept of species as it relates to reproduction, and find a way to produce such an embryo biologically.
There would be no reason that a plant organism could not be a chimera, but with the different DNA codings being inserted just after the seed stage, if the plant grows from seeds. Any multicellular organism with differentiated organs could be turned into a chimera by aliens when they are proceeding into the later stages of the genetic grand transition.

Assuming this genetic science work is successfully completed, it could be used to seed other planets by a star traveling alien civilization. If Earthlings ever decide to do this as well, and we make it to one of these planets, what we find will be quite distinct from what we would postulate from the normal course of evolution. We would already be past the genetic grand transition ourselves, and would understand how it was done, but it would be evidence left behind of another civilization in the galaxy.

On the other hand, we don’t know all that much about the limitations of evolution. We have one example, our planet, and now we can only assume that this is the way evolution works on all solo planets. It might not be true. Perhaps evolution is even more clever than we give it credit for, and chimeras are a standard item on most other solo planets, with ours being the exception where they do not exist. This understanding might also occur at the time of the genetic grand transition – which could be even more revolutionary that we thought before.

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