On the planet Qualis, about 2 million years ago, their was a species of lizards, called “Quals”. They were about as smart at the common Earth rat, not very smart. They dwelled in the semi-arid regions and tropical rainforests of Qualis, and were the prey of larger, more ferocious lizards like Kols and such. Not very impressive.

Than, they came to Qualis. They were a race of ancient creatures, who were quite skilled at genetic engineering and altering. They stumbled upon a group of Quals, and thought that they might be good specimens for their genetic testing. So, they took a group of 50 Quals, 33 of them female, 17 male. They gave this group of 50 increased strength, and intelligence. Then they left.

Eventually, those group of 50 breed with other Quals, with their increased abilities making it easier for them to survive long enough to breed. Generation after generation, Quals got more intelligent, until eventually the evolved into the intelligent Qualian species. My question is, if 50 members if a species gained intelligence, could they evolve to sapience in 2 million years?

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    $\begingroup$ I am pretty sure humanity has always had more than 50 smart people at any given time, yet we don't seem to have evolved after the taming of fire. $\endgroup$ – Renan Sep 23 '18 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ define increased intelligence, if they made human like intelligence all they have to do is breed. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 23 '18 at 5:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Renan humans continue to evolve if anything we are evolving faster now. phys.org/news/2007-12-humans-evolving-faster-alike.html $\endgroup$ – John Sep 23 '18 at 5:43

Yes, it could work - under certain circumstances

If their genetical alteration increases their chances of survival by a long shot, then there is no doubt they would be able to procreate and also protect their offspring.

But 50 specimen is not enough to sustain a population. Too little genetic diversity and you'd quickly reach incest problems.

Your population needs to still be genetically compatible with the originals

As far as I am aware even some dog breeds are genetically too far away from another to procreate with each other. And genetically speaking dog breeds are already very, very similar to one another.

The issue is that at a certain point of divergence specimen become genetically incompatible. The reason why humans can't breed with other apes - and many apes can't breed with many other apes.

Nature does not have this arbitrary classification system we use to define "species". For nature things either work together, or they do not.

Ring Species

If a population spreads out and is the subjected to different enviromental pressures each local portion slowly adapts to, then every specimen is able to mate with every other specimen in its rough vicinity as they basically evolved together, but the further you would go away from that the less likely it is that they are still able to procreate.

Ring Species

So you got a split chain in which every group is compatible with its neighbors, but the end points are not compatible with each other anymore.

To sustain a healthy population your subgroup needs to interbreed with normal specimen

The offspring they create and protect would then have a chance to gain the benefical alterations. Having these their chances of survival are better than of those with fewer of these alterations and so they are more likely to pass on their genes to the next generation.

If the mutations are as beneficial as you say they are, then they will persists through the generations - given the compatibility with the originals.

  • $\begingroup$ They realease the genetically altered specimens into the general population $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Sep 22 '18 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul Just because they are with them does not mean they are compatible. That was the entire point of my answer. Even dogs are not all compatible with one another besides all breeds being rather close relatives. You proposed quite severe alterations and my point was that the alterations can't be too much or they will not be compatible anymore $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Sep 22 '18 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ No, they didn’t create a brand new species! They just made them smarter and stronger. It’s like releasing a bunch of humans into the population, with Albert Einstein intelligence and Mike Tyson strength $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Sep 23 '18 at 6:12
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul You are completely missing my point entirely. You have a very simplified view of genetics. It is not like you alter one gene and your species got einstein smarts and another one for tyson strength. For each to go from very simplistic to that powerful there have to be a lot of genes altered. If the alterations are big enough they will become incompatible. The entire point of the post is to say that there is a limit to the alterations you can make. You can't create a superhuman with 4 Tyson arms and einstein smarts and have it compatible with normal humans. - ... $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Sep 23 '18 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ Might be easier if the aliens removed something: suppose the lizards already had intel potential, but had a protein that was inhibiting advanced intelligence (like amaloid plaque formation in human brains). Suppressing production of that protein could be done with a single gene alteration and preserve genetic compatibility. $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 24 '18 at 0:20

2 million years?

Sapience gained, guaranteed, assuming the help of 50 and their descendants who are acting to preserve the species.

The question is almost nonsensical from the perspective of that much time. In fact, depending on the ecology of the world, the rats could evolve their own intelligence without the help of "them" in that much time. In that much time they could gain their own sapience, develop nuclear weapons, build a religion, question that religion, and bomb themselves out of existence.

Which means there's actually a pretty good chance the rats met your expectation, died, and the cockroaches survived, gained sapience, became annoyed by their own SETI program detecting signals from Earth, which unfortunately included a showing of Men in Black, and upon seeing the savage treatment of one like themselves, raid Earth and destroy humanity.

So in the end, the cockroaches take over the galaxy.

But your rats did gain sapience, which is all you were asking about.

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    $\begingroup$ there is a LOT of species who were here way longer than 2 millions years, but didn't evolve sapience... Ants were here 100 million years ago, and, that I know of, they didn't develop sapience (if I'm correct about the meaning of that word) $\endgroup$ – Don Pablo Sep 24 '18 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ @DonPablo, you are absolutely correct! But Humanity did. This is in the context of the OP's story. He wants sapient rats. Could they evolve sapience in 2M year's time? Sure! We did. Half the point of my answer is that given the time period involved the plausibility of sapience is very high - guaranteed for an author who wants it. And remember, my guarantee was given the OP's condition of 50 intelligent individuals working to improve the species - a benefit ants never had (that I know of). $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 24 '18 at 15:30

Plausibly yes. We don't have a really clear understanding of how exactly intelligence evolved in humans, much less a completely different extraterrestrial species. Even on Earth, high levels of intelligence have evolved separately multiple times (e.g. humans, dolphins, corvids). We don't really know enough to say this isn't implausible. That said, if They are such as skilled geneticists maybe it would only happen if they wanted it deliberately to happen?

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    $\begingroup$ We don't have a really clear understanding of how exactly intelligence evolved in humans. I strongly disagree. Intelligence evolves like every other trait. Through enviromental pressures. Intelligence is an incredibly powerful tool in nature. Outwitting your prey is necessary for predators which is why they are generally more intelligent than their prey. But intelligence comes at a high energy cost - which is a big downside. Humans have merely a slightly more pronounced intelligence allowing them to craft tools and plan to a further extend than monkeys. Otherwise we are not special. $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Sep 22 '18 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure where you think we disagree. Yes intelligence is a powerful natural tool, and comes at a high energy cost. I'm not sure why you think anything I said implied or asserted that humans are "special" since I explicitly mentioned dolphins and corvids as other examples of high intelligence animals evolving on Earth. However, beyond the general overview of intelligence we don't know that much beyond that. For example, it is unclear how much of our high intelligence is due to more efficient brain structure, how much is due to efficiency, and how much is due to simply really big brains. $\endgroup$ – JoshuaZ Sep 23 '18 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, okay. You phrased that sentence really weirdly if that is what you meant. Because what you mean is "We don't really understand the biochemistry and neurology causing intelligence", but how and why it evolved are very well known ideas. A predator slightly smarter is slightly better at outwitting prey and if energy cost is not outweighing that benefit than it is a trait that is likely to continue with the next generations. There is not much mystery about that. As soon as you got the basis of a nervous system, intelligence is just a matter of survival benefit vs energy cost. $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Sep 23 '18 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ How would seem to me to involve biochemistry and neurology in a natural way, not just the overarching causes. One difficult question that biologists are struggling with today is to understand whether the species which have evolved intelligence did so purely due to evolutionary pressures and open niches which encouraged that or whether some existing brain architectures made such evolution more likely; for example corvids have independently become very smart in multiple separate lineages even as many other birds have not to the same extent. $\endgroup$ – JoshuaZ Sep 23 '18 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ @artificialsoul Advanced analysis is not the same as complete feedback loop intelligence. Deep Blue is not intelligent. A lot of evolutionary biology research is focused on why sentience is useful compared to highly complex stimulus-response systems. In various research papers I’ve seen, the latter appears to be far easier to evolve and appears to provide the same level of survival advantage at a lower energy cost. But sentience keeps appearing. That’s the open question. $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 24 '18 at 0:34

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