Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cloning and the Genetic Grand Transition

Idiocracy is a recoverable disorder, as the crashing of the population following a collapse, caused by a lack of talent to maintain an alien civilization, causes evolutionary pressures to resume. Intelligence is once again selected for, and some recovery is possible. This could happen repeatedly, and the only thing that seems to happen is the civilization is delayed in reaching the genetic grand transition, and its finale, which includes the universal improvement of intelligence.

The exception to this is scarcity. Malthusian idiocracy puts great pressure on resources, and in fact, is ameliorated by high resource extraction rates, plus all the necessary conversions of resources into sustenance. This means that the ultimate cure for idiocracy, the genetic grand transition, can come too late to save the civilization. It drops down in a collapse, but the resources are not there to allow the civilization to again mount up to the peaks of technology. This can happen in several ways, with different resources being depleted, but the particular way is not important. What is important is that if the genetic grand transition is sufficiently delayed, the combination of Malthusian idiocracy and resource scarcity can doom the civilization's chances for space travel, and ultimately visiting Earth.

Thus, a key question is what could delay or postpone the genetic grand transition, or slow its progress so much that the civilization's future is put into jeopardy? Put into context, how would it be possible to slow the genetic grand transition? Individuals and groups of individuals, no matter how organized, operate after the industrial grand transition to improve their own standing, as they measure it. It seems almost inevitable that some individuals and groups of individuals would find the various steps of the genetic grand transition to be in their own best interest and would therefore pursue these steps.

Anyone involved in providing sustenance the old way, through agriculture or animal husbandry, would seek more efficient ways of producing sustenance. Improvement to crop yields, new sources of edible materials via previously unused biological bases, the elimination of the need for grafting, the development of improved strains of animals, and so on all makes this profession more profitable.

Consider cloning. An animal or plant with exceptional characteristics, if bred with another, might not maintain those characteristics in full, as sexual mixing of genes dilutes the set of genes that produced the superior organism. Cloning is essentially the bypassing of the sexual mixing of genes. For plants, grafting is a way of cloning not involving genetics at all, but which is not as efficient as growing identical seeds. One way of cloning would be the development of parthenogenesis, which would be a genetic modification, perhaps more drastic than simply rewriting a genetic script.

Parthenogenesis is a process that exists today on Earth, among some plants and animals. It is common in the plant kingdom, but rare in the animal kingdom. There are several variants as to how nature performs this feat, and these are understood to a degree now, so that parthenogenesis can be induced in the laboratory, although it has not been explored in a wide variety of creatures. There seems to be no reason why one of the methods of parthenogenesis could not be used for cloning. Among invertebrates, parthenogenesis produces both males and females.

Cloning is more often thought of as being done the more tedious way, by introducing a complete set of DNA to replace those in a viable fertilized egg cell, which is then implanted and gestated. This might be mechanized, along the same lines that DNA deciphering has been automated by a factor of a thousand in cost. There seems to be no scientific barrier, nor an economic one, stopping cloning of both plants and animals from becoming widespread. There may be political barriers to it on any particular alien world.

Once DNA coding is automated, and a large mass of DNA codes are collected and correlated with physical characteristics, the translation of the DNA code into attributes can proceed. Since appearance features are easy to measure and collect, this may be one of the first sets of genes that are understood. Once this happens, and once modification of DNA becomes as easy to do and easy to automate as deciphering coding, cloning can be done in combination with appearance changes. This would allow some degree of surreptitious cloning to take place, in that the clones would all look different. Having a large number of twins, or rather N-multiples, together would certainly make the results of cloning obvious, but if there was a difference in size, weight, bone structure, muscular arrangement, coloring, and so on, cloning would be detectable only by DNA testing. Whatever desirable features the animal farmer wanted to produce would not be changed, but other surface attributes could be. Thus, political barriers in a situation where there was not a great deal of surveillance of everything might be avoided or ignored.

In the alternate situation, where an alien civilization had unified earlier, or at least unified to the degree that only two or a few centers of political control existed, and where surveillance of the citizen population was extensive, genetic manipulation and cloning could be severely limited. If the civilization had been derailed in its climb to asymptotic technology and all the social changes that this entails, in lieu of maintaining the prerogatives of those involved with governance, then there truly would be a mechanism and a motivation for stopping the genetic grand transition at some early point. If the planet were divided into more than one political division, just a few, there would have to be some agreement between those involved in governance in the different capitals that a unified policy on cloning and other genetic modifications would be adopted. This could be known or not, but with identical policies throughout the planet, there is no zone in which genetic progress could be made and then pressure built up to make this progress universal. Instead, there would be a diversion of research into whatever areas of genetic research that were safe to those in governance, and barriers everywhere else.

Even this might fail if those in governance realize there is some benefit to themselves from allowing cloning to be developed, even if only for their own use. Once the door is opened a crack, it seems hard to imagine that with successive generations, it would not be gradually pried open further and further. Could this slowdown of genetic research continue so long as to exhaust the planet's resources? Perhaps.

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