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I'm beginning to build a post-apocalyptic world wherein rulers want to breed humanity in such a way that: 1) does not end up again in the ecological mess we see in the real world, and; 2) human beings are less prone to warring tribalism.

I'm simply looking at the feasibility of modifying the human genome at this point. As far as plot line is concerned, I think I'll make their plan backfire, but I'm not sure how. (Feel free to comment on this point if you think of something.)

EDIT: If possible, can this be done using existing technology? Considering my story is in the near (100 yr) future, the technology may be more advanced. Thank you. - DDM

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    $\begingroup$ Have you thought about Eunuchs? The traits you want to eliminate are usually associated with "male behaviour", the easiest way then would be for someone to decide its best to castrate all males and have only artificial reproduction. $\endgroup$ – Sasha Feb 8 '18 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I hadn't thought of that and will take it into consideration. $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 8 '18 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Sasha Or even having a high proportion of eunuchs, rather than "all males". One could imagine primitive eugenics in which, e.g., all men who had less than the 98th percentile of IQ, were castrated, while women were served reproductively by the remaining 2%. This is basically the gender structure of domesticated horses and cows in captivity. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Feb 8 '18 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ You might find the "Crakers" of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake interesting. They are created with a similar goal but a radically different approach. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Feb 14 '18 at 15:57
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Parts of this sounds like the domestication syndrome which is fairly well understood at the biochemical level (and even to some extent a genetic level) as well as the gross phenotype level. This arises from lower level functioning of neural crest cells which regulate the fight or flight syndrome and also drive a lot of seemly random stuff (like pigmentation) that go with it. This could bring empathy and docility and acceptance.

The trouble is that a post-apocalyptic world is a bad place for domesticated humans. Neural crest cells provide huge fitness advantages in "the wild" which this world is more like, while being a disadvantage in more civilized settings.

IQ is much trickier because it is massively polygenetic. Realistically, in the kind of setting you suggest, the main way that average IQ could be enhanced is not with genetic engineering to make the smartest people smarter (which is virtually impossible), but by culling (or castrating or surgically sterilizing) children with developmental disabilities, removing the number of people at the very low end.

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent. This is the type of answer I was looking for. Thank you. - DDM $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 8 '18 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Placing this comment here in case others like me were wondering what polygenic means... biology-online.org/dictionary/Polygenic_trait $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 8 '18 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ ohwilleke: could you please define neural crest cells? I'm not following the argument. - DDM $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 8 '18 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ Neural crest cells are a kind of cell in your kidneys that governs how you produce and distribute a few key hormones in the body, the most important of which is adrenaline. When they work well, you get intense adrenaline bursts of ability to fight or flee and they trigger easily. When they are broken or sub-par, you have muted reactions to risk situations. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Feb 8 '18 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ If you don't detect pain and touch something hot or pointy, you get injured. Weak neural crest cells are the next step. When you are in a dangerous situation you don't flee or fight as well as you need to in the face of predators or other dangerous situations and so you die. In a dangerous world your "panic" threshold should be low, in a safe world your "panic" threshold should be high because it allows cooperation more easily. They can really be out to get you even if you aren't paranoid, and then if you aren't paranoid, you're in trouble. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Feb 8 '18 at 22:29
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Respectfully, you're looking in the wrong place. Docility, empathy and intelligence are byproducts of a world with plenty; we only have trouble tolerating each other when in active competition for scarce resources.

Even intelligence is (in part) subject to nurture, not nature; the real advances in our ability to think seem to coincide with our mastery of fire, and the ability to sit safely and consider our day beside an open fire in the evening.

This of course goes against the grain of your ecological 'mess' scenario, which is ALSO not a function of our genetics per se. The ecological situation today is caused by our sheer numbers, not by our attitudes, although these certainly don't help.

Want to genetically engineer humans to ensure the ecology isn't impacted again? The simplest solution is to make us less fertile. Either alter males so that they produce less sperm (or have a higher probability of being infertile, or alter females so they ovulate far less or only produce a fertile egg one in (say) 10 times.

If you really want to get creative, try something like the Vulcan Pon Phar; Men only get 'in the mood' once every 7 years or so. When you stop and think about it, that would actually go a long way to solving the docility and acceptance problems as well because males would not be constantly competitive with each other to show off, only when it's a matter of survival.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for commenting. I really appreciate it! Respectfully, I disagree—I believe the human genetic makeup allows for aggression and overpopulation. But I'm not looking to argue. Best - DDM $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 8 '18 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I'm looking for answers directly answer my question: Is it feasible to modify the genome with the characteristics I have listed? (And in what way?) $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 8 '18 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ HI Daniel. I kind of agree with you, but only insofar as in an environment where there is always competition for resources, the most aggressive and the fastest reproducers are always going to be successful. If you take that out genetically, you're also removing the human ability to be successful if more aggressive competition evolves in the biosphere. This is why I like the Pon Phar approach; it only takes one of those stressors away. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Feb 8 '18 at 22:17
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Psychology is a weird thing. Violence, aggression, and assorted traits aren't wrong unless they are out of place. For instance, if a man is carrying a concealed gun, he is constantly paranoid, anxious, stressed, jumpy, and aggressive. If that man is a recently exposed undercover FBI agent being hunted by pissed off mafia hit-men then that behavior is perfectly healthy and normal. Being aggressive and jumpy is a perfectly healthy reaction to that situation developed over millions of years of evolution to aid in our survival in such dangerous situations. now apply that exact same behavior to a kid going to school, or a nanny on her way to pick up her employers child. NOW there is a problem, because they are now reacting violently to situations that don't call for it.

Violent Behavior or the host of negative emotions associated with it are not inherently evil, the problem is when said psychological processes are being used as a response to situations that don't warrant it. This is why criminals and the mentally ill exist as concepts within our society. Removing the aggression response in humans would actually harm their survival chances, as aggression also is not inherently violent. Your aggression can also be channeled into determination to endure, motivation to succeed, friendly competitiveness etc etc. Removing or blunting one part of our psychology can have cascading negative effects on our ability to survive. Nature has been working on keeping us alive fore a pretty good while, going in and deciding to tweak the products of millions of years of evolutionary success is a pretty bad idea. We don't do the things we do and think the way we do on accident,

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  • $\begingroup$ Brilliant insights! Thank you, TCAT117 ! $\endgroup$ – user47438 Feb 10 '18 at 20:08

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