Genetic Engineering

The act of altering and/or constructing DNA sequences to create new or altered life-forms subsequently brought to term artificially or through a natural host.

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 colonization 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.

Legal implications: There are many and varied laws throughout the Imperial member states regarding what can and cannot be done through genetic manipulation.  Surprisingly there is correspondingly little Imperial law covering the subject.  Aside from the usual guarantees of planets rights to control the import and export of new or altered beings the one overriding restriction is that "No human DNA or DNA sequence may be used as a basis for genetic experimentation or production without express permit."  (The legal interpretation extends to other sophont races as well.)

As this permission is remarkably hard to get, many scientists have decried this as overly restrictive.  They claim this as a great setback to human science and the attempt to eliminate various genetic diseases.  Commercial concerns have complained about the restrictions as sealing off a large potential market for ecosystem adaptation and tailored individuals for leisure, entertainment, and special industries.  To understand more about the reasoning behind the law it is necessary to understand some of the events leading up to it.

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.  It is known 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 small restrictions of the Imperium at the time.  In the early reawakening efforts were launched to attempt to recover as much material as possible and to continue the science.  However, as the core of the Imperium expanded more and more unlicensed worlds were brought in and the results of unlegislated and undisciplined use of genetic constructions got some 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 eugenics project gone wrong.  An enclave of their descendants still exists but are restricted to a series of islands and primitive equipment due to their genetically induced militant tendencies.

Attempts at autogenesis, cloning and memory transfer, bore occasional fruits.  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 which swayed public opinion and persuaded Emperor Martin I to sign into law the Genetic Manipulation Act.

Violations have and continue to occur, both through scientific idealism and commercial incentives.  It is, in fact, 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.

Facts of genetic engineering: In the field of Genetic Engineering proper, existing DNA codes are taken and spliced together into new life forms.  This can often be a long process of trial and error, especially when dealing with new or not completely understood codes.  This is generally best applied to tailoring a specific species to better suit some end goal.

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.  Extra space is sometimes 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 further or mutate and are very susceptible to diseases or changes that were not engineered into them.

This, though, has its benefits.  Often an organism or creature can be created to fulfill a certain purpose or else produce a certain results.  Then, when it detects that it has accomplished its goals, it dies, or ceases to reproduce.

Genetic engineering today: There are a number of areas where Genetic Engineering comes to the fore in the Imperial sphere.  As previously mentioned biosphere construction has enabled the colonization of previously uninhabited worlds.  This has caused contention in some groups where previous species have been eliminated by the new constructs.

The Ubedewi Iceworm was an early successful and popular construct.  It can live in temperatures near absolute zero by absorbing any and all radiant energy.  Ice worlds can be seeded with them and, slowly, over time their albedo can be shifted.

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 Grashfalt which often appears on space stations.  This is genetically engineered turf that is tough, resilient and beneficial to artificial atmospheres.

Another interesting example 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 lifeforms 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 from Feeweegro (with a particularly melodious mating call) was engineered and given a predilection for harmony.  Two or more Harmonizers 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 Harmonizers is present.

In the field of genetic construction creatures are not limited to 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.  These range from decorative garden cherubs to robot-like heavy laborers for mine work to specialized "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.  This has proven to be an extremely grey area, legally, though.  The Imperium 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.

-XB gen