So what's new on the fantasy frontier?

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Griffin, May 31, 2014.

  1. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    De-extinction is fascinating but controversial. On the one hand it's needlessly cruel to animals, it threatens to disrupt natural habitats, and it's extremely expensive and the money could have been used for conservation. On the other hand...who wouldn't want to see a woolly mammoth?! There's an upper limit to how old a sample can be for us to be able to recover enough intact DNA for de-extinction; current estimates put that at somewhere along the lines of 1.5 million years. All the coolest stuff died long beore then.

    Recently, the minimal genome project created a synthetic organism with a record small 473-gene genome. It's got no genetic redundancy, and it needs every single one of those genes to survive. In nature, the smallest is a bacteria called Microplasma genitalium with 525 genes. Even other simple microorganisms usually have thousands; E. coli has ~4500. Of those 473 essential genes, nobody knows what 149 of them do. We don't know the function of 1/3 of the genes essential to the most basic form of life that we know of.

    Once we understand more completely how life works, we can start designing new life. We already have the tools, and they'e getting better all the time. At some point, it won't matter that there's no more cloneable dino DNA left on earth; we'll be able to design a genome for an organism that looks the way we think a dinosaur should. We're obviously a long ways off, but the dream is still pretty cool.

    I should write a post-apocalyptic sci-fi book with genetically engineered dinosaurs! Interested, Tom? :D
  2. Alucard

    Alucard In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge! Staff Member

    Thank you so much for explaining that. It's very interesting and if you have an inclination you should definitely use your scientific knowledge to write a plausible sci-fi novel that's backed up by proven scientific theories and laws in biology. I know some people here get irritated by the wacky science behind sci-fi novels.

    You should still get a kindle. Ebook is 2.99$ while the paperback is 11.82$ for 176 pages.

    Also in July we get a sequel? Or at least a story set in the same world.

  3. TomTB

    TomTB The Master Tweeter Staff Member

    Where do I sign?
  4. Sparrow

    Sparrow Journeyed there and back again

    We're not close to understanding how life works, we don't even know how life began.

    I finished listening to A New History of Life (by Peter Ward & Joe Kirschvink) last month and the book overturns some very long held notions concerning evolution and life. I had not known just how long that bacteria ruled the Earth, before any higher order life made the scene. The book corrects our pretentious idea that this is the Age of Mammals... It was the Age of Bacteria 3.5 billion years ago, and it's still the Age of Bacteria and always will be. If you want to bring on the apocalypse, create a really nasty variant of a common bacteria.:dead:
  5. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    There are plans to de-exctinct mammoths and other prehistoric mega-fauna though, @Darwin. As you probably know there are several methods of doing this. Here's a chart of possible approaches to the problem. For some of these methods you wouldn't need to retrieve the full genome, especially for the first method. Admittedly, the result wouldn't be a proper mammoth, but still.

  6. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    @Silvion Night those plans are actually outdated. There was considerable public outcry to that method, because it'd probably require putting several hundred endangered elephants through the traumatic experience of giving birth to larger, almost alien children, with most of the baby mammoths dying before or shortly after birth, just for the hope of eventually achieving a healthy mammoth. It's been done before with other species and it's not nice. A recently extinct ibex was 'resurrected' in 2009 by the second method you listed. It lived 7 minutes, then died of lung complications. In 2013 the same thing was done with an extinct frog. The embryos initially grew, then died. Imagine putting an entire herd of endangered elephants through the birthing process.

    That site has the updated plans. Basically, they want to clone mammoth DNA into asian elephant genomes, replacing one or a few genes at a time, until they get an asian elephant that has the properties of a woolly mammoth. It's similar to the last method, but different in that they don't want a real mammoth, just an elephant with mammoth traits, so they probably won't need to alter too much of the genome. To me, this is a much better approach. We won't technically get a real woolly mammoth, but it avoids a lot of the animal cruelty concerns, and we'll learn more about engineering life this way than we would have by just focusing on the pregnancy process. This is almost certainly a faster way for these guys to make my dreams of someday owning a miniature dinosaur, or a house cat with Alucard's desired saber-teeth, a reality.
  7. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    It sounds a bit similar to the methos that scientists used in developing chickens with reptilian snouts.

    Although your article is about changing genes, whereas the one I posted isn't.
  8. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    Lol that project is amazing. I love the pictures people have made for it.

  9. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    For some wonky reasons involving chirality (right and left hand versions of molecules), and because any evidence to confirm any hypothesis is long gone from this world, there are some crucial mysteries surrounding the origins of life that we'll likely never solve, even after we do understand how it works to the extent that we can build new organisms.

    You don't get all that far into studying synthetic biology without concluding that we're really not all that special. We're outclassed in every aspect other than intelligence by other species, and it's likely that in just a few thousand years our descendants will outclass us to some noticeable extent in that regard as well. We haven't reached some final point in our evolution, we're simply at a period of neutral genetic drift, creating diversity to ultimately prepare for the next wide-scale selective event. I worry that event might involve Donald Trump.
  10. Sneaky Burrito

    Sneaky Burrito Crazy Cat Lady Staff Member

    I spent 2/3 of my PhD synthesizing purines (and sometimes pyrimidines and triazines) by heating up simpler molecules with salts and minerals and exposing them to UV light (the other 1/3 was spent working with all-purine DNA that used inosine/hypoxanthine instead of T and isoguanine instead of C). It was interesting although cleaning up the brown gunk (probably HCN polymer) to get at the known molecules caused lots of problems. But, I have seen little tiny bits of the Murchison meteorite in real life and also some of Stanley Miller's original samples (and know a couple of the guys who were his grad students). Never had to deal with the chirality side of things (we just used regular old D-deoxyribose because you could buy those components for the DNA synthesizer).
  11. Sparrow

    Sparrow Journeyed there and back again

    We weren't at all special until about 70,000 years ago, when a "leap of consciousness" occurred. We are, at present state, extremely *special*. The human brain might be the most wondrous and complex thing in all the universe. We Homo-sapiens have defied all the odds to get this far. It would be ashamed to blow it now. I know with the likes of Donald Trump and his followers, it may seem that evolution is going backwards... but Evolution is a fickle mistress, and while we are probably an evolutionary dead end, it would be nice to give cockroaches a run for their money. Do not go gentle into that good night.:)
  12. Silvion Night

    Silvion Night Sir Readalot Staff Member

    I think we're the only species that can actually do something about their own possible extinction though (conversely, we can also massively speed it up with out nuclear arsenal of course).

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light. :)
  13. ReguIa

    ReguIa Journeyed there and back again

    Na it's 30,000 years. At least that's what Pullman said..
  14. Maark Abbott

    Maark Abbott Journeyed there and back again

    The terror will consume you surely enough.
  15. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    My comment about us being special was very poorly worded. You are of course correct that our intelligence is profoundly special. I'll try to better explain what I was trying to say. When you start from a creationist viewpoint, mankind was created in God's image, and we're essentially perfect as far as mortal creatures go. The idea that there might be an organism that is better than us in every way that we value: vastly more attractive, intelligent, and athletic and less prone to disease, longer living, more even tempered, etc., that idea is ridiculous. We're as good as it gets, anything else is a fiction. When you then give up the notion of creationism and take up the idea that we're the product of evolution, many people still view this as our final, nearly perfected form. That's a fallacy. There's also the notion that our basic biological architecture is optimal for intelligence. I think that's also a fallacy.

    It may be that in the future a species will exist with a level of intellect that makes ours looks pathetic. This could be our descendants, or it could be something we cook up in a lab hundreds or thousands of years from now. Biological intelligence is a continuum, and we don't know if there's a practical upper limit. If there is, where do we fall on the scale between super-intellect and chimpanzee? It's entirely possible that our intellect, while special compared to everything currently existing on Earth, is a relatively weak version of biological intelligence.

    @Sneaky Burrito that's so cool! I sort of glossed over how research like yours shows how conditions in nature could produce the sort of biomolecules currently found in life, and I skipped to an existing, unanswered (unanswerable?) question of homochirality. All chiral biomolecular building blocks, particularly sugars (and thus nucleotides) and amino acids are only found as a single isomer. Is chiral enrichment a product of life, or a prerequisite? If it's a product of life, then the rise of the first molecular self-replicator becomes exponentially more rare and difficult. It would need to discriminate against building blocks of the wrong stereochemistry, which would initially be present at 50% in the racemic building block soup, effectively enriching those incorrect isomers by using up the correct ones. That's some pretty sophisticated substrate specificity for a randomly assembled molecule to achieve in addition to its already sophisticated self-reading/writing activity. A self-replicator would need a turnover number >1 to maintain itself, and the presence of a concentrated solution of the incorrect isomer (relative to the correct one) would presumably be inhibitory if its substrate specificity (toward the correct isomer and against the incorrect one) weren't perfect. With DNA, RNA, and protein, incorporation of the enantiomer nucleotides or amino acids would prevent the proper secondary and tertiary structures from forming; it's fair to say the same would be true for any chiral 3D polymer. With no enantioselectivity and a racemic starting mixture, the incorrect enantiomer would result in a 50% error rate per monomer in the polymeric product during 'reproduction.' Any self-replicator with a turnover number <1 would die off. The more stable the polymer, the longer it would have to copy itself, but the higher the energy barrier, and thus slower activity, for replication.

    If, on the other hand, the building blocks underwent chiral enrichment first, the likelyhood of a self-replicator becomes significantly more reasonable. We know that diverse biological building blocks can be created under conditions likely to have existed in nature back then. A variety of ligation chemistry is possible under very mild conditions, such as disulfide and thioester bond formation/cleavage, etc. But how would a racemic system with no prior chiral enrichment become enriched? Physical separation of enantiomers requires a homochiral input. Only homochiral reagents would selectively react with one enatiomer and not the other.

    There are some hypothetical solutions to this but each possible mechanism places constraints on what the initial building blocks might have been (that's probably a good thing, since we have no other way of knowing). It's possible that the initial self-replicator just happened to be capable of selecting the correct monomers extremely efficiently, although this adds another layer of complexity to what was already an incredibly complex and unlike thing for a random polymer to achieve. The initial self-replicating polymer must have consisted of two monomers for evolution to be possible; could these two monomers perhaps have been enantiomers of one another? I like that possibility; it's elegant in a certain way. Finally, could it be possible that the self-replicator was achiral, and that chiral enrichment occurred later after successful evolution of an achiral self-replicator? It's really hard for me to imagine that this could be possible, but I don't want to rule it out.
  16. kenubrion

    kenubrion Journeyed there and back again

    Well at least both you and Sparrow got to use Donald Trump slams to make your points. You got that going for you.
  17. Darwin

    Darwin Journeyed there and back again

    I used to use the Zombie Apocalypse as my hypothetical intense selective pressure for human evolution. It's slightly more likely than a Trump Presidency, but a lot less scary.
  18. Maark Abbott

    Maark Abbott Journeyed there and back again

    Back to topic, my chum Joel Minty just had his first book released ('Purge of Ashes'). Obviously I have to pimp it out.
  19. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

  20. Alucard

    Alucard In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge! Staff Member

    Since I know the rest of the April will be quite chaotic for me, I thought I should do the May cover spread now.
    Naomi Novik's League of Dragons was moved for June 14th.


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