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Author Topic: I've got a question about.....
Monolith
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Like it says in the subject line, I have a question.

I've been thinking today at work (I'm a delivery driver, so I have time to think) about a premise for a story.

It would revolve around 6 or so convicts that are experimented on with gene-splicing or dna splicing. I have decided that the DNA would come from dinosaurs, big cats, bears and other animals.

Now the question is: How would I try to explain most of the science behind this, or just try to get around it with dialogue or what? I was thinking just using dialogue and explaining it that way to who was being experimented on.

Would that work?

Just wondering. If you need clarification, just let me know.

-Monolith-


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lehollis
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I think the genetic manipulation is common enough as a concept, that you don't need to explain it other than saying they spliced the convicts DNA with animals.
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Isaiah13
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Dean Koontz wrote a two book series that deals with DNA splicing, mixing animals with humans. Might be worth checking them out just to see how he handled the premise. "Fear Nothing" and "Seize the Night".
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Monolith
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I will. I love Koontz work. He's a great writer (IMO).

Thanks for the heads up Isaiah.


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Spaceman
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If you don't understand the science, you can always make the story farce. That way, the science doesn't really need to matter.
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wbriggs
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I assume that the purpose is to make them animal-like?

I think you'll get an audience for this, but it wouldn't include me: DNA is a blueprint for how to construct an animal, not for renovating one that already exists!

I suppose the evil scientists could develop some new technique OTHER than simply bringing in animal DNA, to make people turn into dino-men and bear-men. But what would be the point?

Maybe magic would be better: use an evil ancient magic tome, not DNA. There's got to be a way.


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Corky
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What if you didn't use the DNA splicing to make them part animal, but to give them some special animal quality?

There have been people who believed that if they could eat a lion's heart, they would obtain the lion's courage. So if someone could incorporate some lion DNA it might make them "brave as a lion."

Chameleon DNA could help someone blend in with his surroundings, as another example.

Or chimpanzee DNA could give someone an opposable big toe. (Though I understand that our DNA is so close to that of chimps that we could interbreed--the way horses and donkeys can to produce mules and hinnies--but that's a different story idea.)


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Jeraliey
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It seems like the amount that you have to explain and the depth you explain it in really depends on your POV character and how much he or she knows about the subject. Just be true to the character, and treat the topic as he or she would, whether through dialogue or other means.

[This message has been edited by Jeraliey (edited December 03, 2005).]


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Survivor
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What wbriggs said.

On the other hand, genetic engineering is a popularly accepted handwavium for most people these days. So do as you like.


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Monolith
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Handwavium???

I think I might go the route Jeraliey suggested.

Wbriggs: Why wouldn't you read a story like it?? I think it might make a decent story.

Well, the purpose it to give them qualities that they can use for what they're assigned to do. That's the thinking anyway. But I was also thinking of giving them the ability to morph/change into what animal that they were given. That sort of thing.

But if I were to do it within a fantasy setting, it would be a different story altogether.

But that's me.

Ok here's another question.

Do you think it would be better as a sci-fi story or as a fantasy?

(I can see where it could be good as a fantasy piece. I might be able to do both and see which one is better.)

Thanks


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Survivor
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As wbriggs pointed out, anyone that knows the first thing about genetic engineering would dismiss the concept you've suggested as absolute tripe.

Rule one of genetic engineering: genes basically code for proteins/enzymes that will be produced within a cell.

If you find yourself unable to follow (both meanings intended) the implications of that rule, then people who know that much about genetic engineering will dismiss your work as being uninformed. However, as I said, a lot of people don't know that much about genetic engineering. They think of DNA as a magic substance that can do anything (ref. 'handwavium').


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Lord Darkstorm
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If you are writing the story from the POV of the victims of the manipulation, why do you have to explain anything? I know in all the cliche scifi serals the bad guys always told why and how in long winded speaches...but why would anyone who could modify people ever bother explaining anything to their subjects? They wouldn't understand the science, so it would be pointless to bother.

Just write your story and worry about what category it falls into later. I think it would end up better if you never explain the 'how', but keep the story believable. If the characters can transform into an animal, then it will be more fantasy than scifi. If it only gives them permanent animal features or abilities then it would be easier to swallow as a scientific change.


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Leigh
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This kind of sounds like Animorphs to me. I read that series of books when I was younger but it has the same kind of idea around this.

The kids turn into animals because of alien technology, but the morphing power, as it was called, never was explained except that when a person touches an animal then they absorb the DNA creating an image inside of their DNA.

So the idea of this story sounds awesome Monolith, I also agree with Lord Darkstorm about how just write your story


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nimnix
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I'd read the fantasy version over the SF version, but that's simply because I've seen a lot of SF involving genetic engineering. Much of it doesn't sound plausible because they substitute the word "genetic engineering" for "magic", and just make it do whatever they want without dealing with the facts as we know them.

When "science" gets skewed that way, it seems more to me like fantasy than SF, just fantasy with DNA.

Most people seem not to care though, and just suspend disbelief simply because they're reading spec fiction.

[This message has been edited by nimnix (edited December 05, 2005).]


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Miriel
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I'm of the opinion that even if the POV character doesn't always understand what's going on, the author has to, or the book isn't consistent and rings false. For example (I know, I always use this example...) Tolkien's hobbits are, roughly, the view-point characters. A lot of stuff gets skimmed over, because the hobbits don't understand what's going on. But, never during The Lord of the Rings did I get the impression that Tolkien didn't know exactly what was going on, down to the last detail of Elvish history. I didn't ever feel like I was being tricked. I think I'd feel cheated if I thought the author was being untidy and trying to cover up the fact that he didn't know what was going on behind-the-scenes. It seems farily inevitable, besides, that there'll be some character in the book who will understand the genetics. Even if it's just a doctor recording the status of a patient. Even if the hobbits, and thus the reader, didn't need to understand everything, Gandalf and Aragorn needed to sound like they knew. And without the author knowing...I don't think that feeling is possible to obtain. I think it will inevitably become obvious that there's hand-waving going on, which will turn a fair number of readers off the story. It seems terribly important to know how the premise of your story works because of how it affects your readers, and how it affects plot. IMHO.
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wbriggs
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What Survivor said (to answer the question, why I wouldn't read this as proposed). But as fantasy, I wouldn't have a problem with it.
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franc li
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"Dark Angel" also had the animal DNA enhancement stuff. She just mentioned that she had cat DNA and left it at that. Though if you are asking how DNA engineering works, there is this treatment they do to papaya plants where they just "shoot" DNA of a microorganism they feel is beneficial into the leaves of a papaya plant and then graft the sucker to replicate the benefits, I think. Other ideas involve using a retrovirus (this was the method of modification in Xenocide. I keep hearing things like they've put shrimp DNA in strawberries to make them freeze resistant and now they aren't Kosher anymore, or they might inadvertently kill people who are allergic to shellfish.

Humans and chimpanzees have different numbers of chromosomes, so if you were to successfully interbreed them it is not the case that you would get something in between, but probably something less functional than either.

I do have a possible setting where scientists try using anucleated chimp eggs to cultivate clone DNA. Hmm, I just thought of another direction that could go. Quite a nasty one. Part of what I explore in that area is the possibility that there are intracellular bodies that are as important to interpreting our DNA as the DNA itself. In my story, most of the clones turn out fine, but about 5 percent can't reproduce and the error isn't noticed for a long time. They would be humans with the chimp number of chromosomes.

Another idea was that scientists created some chimp/human hybrids that were never intended to be born, but some pro-life terrorists "liberated" them - not knowing they were part ape. They would be the chimps with the human number of chromosomes.

P.S. could you edit your subject so I know that I've already read this thread? Otherwise I may have to start eschewing the vague leading question type threads again.

[This message has been edited by franc li (edited December 06, 2005).]


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Lord Darkstorm
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Just thought I would share a few insigts on DNA. DNA is vaugly similar to code in a program, well code that stores it's own variables inside itself. A human DNA has the instructions for how our bodies function, and the details of the features it will contain. Eye/hair/skin color, height, strength, and base personality is all written in the DNA. It is possible to modify DNA to change some of those details. Currently scientist have discovered the gene in rats that will cause the rat's body to stop storing fat. If they could do the same for humans, then people could be changed so that no one would be overweight again.

Changing DNA is most commonly done through a retrovirus that is "programmed" to rewrite a particular section of the DNA. Since it is a virus, there are other possible situation that should be taken into concideration. The virus might mutate during the process and make changes no one wanted. The most probable outcome of a mutation would be the death of the intended subject. The virus could be killed off by the body's immune system before the change was completed. The result of that could be the subject's immune system attacking the changed portions, or attacking the portions not changed. There is also the possibility that the virus could have been created incorrectly and it changes the wrong part of the DNA, which would most likely result in death...but could come up with some interesting possibilities.

The biggest problem with mutating animal dna with human dna is the incompatibility of the dna strands. Since a cat's dna is vastly different than a human's dna, a hacking of the structure would be required to splice them together. Doing this in a grown adult would more than likely be painful, if not fatal. Growing an modified embryo would have greater chances of success than modifying a living person.

Also there would be a whole list of problems to deal with from a psycological aspect. If someone wakes up one day and sees things through cat eyes, how will thier brain handle it? Could a human brain deal with that form of change?

Playing with DNA can be used in many stories, but it will be more believable if the downside is portrayed as well.


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