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I am building a race of humans (or humanoid constructs) that have the ability to alter their DNA (or store a second set and use it selectively) as to gain superhuman (or meta-human) abilities.

Is the use of extraneous DNA biologically possible?

And if this couldn't occur naturally (or be bio engineered into a species), what level of tech should be expected before that point?

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    $\begingroup$ You might consider employing a DNA construct that isn't a double helix. Since all we know is the double helix, such a construct might make this plausible, or just handwave it as a true thing. (Not an answer because I don't know its validity.) $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 22 '15 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ Think about humans being able to completely control their heart rate. How many infants do you suppose would die in the first year of life? I'd wager that infant mortality would be high enough for such an ability to not survive in the genome, the same is even more true for something as fundamental as DNA. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Apr 22 '15 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ I just finished reading Dawn by Octavia Butler, which has a race of aliens which do this. $\endgroup$ – CoolCurry Apr 22 '15 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ Would it be more feasible if the creature (or machine) analyzed a certain trait, then applied a similar effect to the body? $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald Apr 22 '15 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Sometimes! We are machines made of machines made out of machines, no reason a few extra machines couldn't be slotted in in various places based on what's seen in the world. Note a few things, though: 1) It will take time, no superjuice exists that will suddenly make you awesome. Machines take time to build 2) Using the power to gain generic superhero stuff (superstrength, flight, whatevs) probably won't work efficiently if it all. Effectively using the power will take lateral thinking. On the plus sides, lateral thinking can be really good for the story. Read up on wierd biology. It'll be fun $\endgroup$ – Saidoro Apr 23 '15 at 19:34
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Practically: No. Theoretically: Yes, but probably not in the way you're thinking.

Most of the sorts of things that humans think of as traits are not the immediate result of things your DNA is doing right now, they are the result of structures whose form and function are the result of things your DNA was doing a long time ago. Your eyes work the way they do because of the cells that make them up and the ways those cells are attached to one another, even if you did replace some of the DNA sequences in those cells with hawk DNA they wouldn't suddenly start working better. The most likely outcomes of that would be that your eyes simply stop working as your cells either stop making things that they need or start making things which break the existing machines or that nothing changes at all.

Now, there are a few things that might theoretically be moddable into living organisms this way if you waive the massive computing power that would be needed to actually find the useful ones(preferably in a way which doesn't involve risking poisoning yourself), but most of them aren't that exciting. They're the sorts of things that happen at the cellular level that you usually don't even notice. For example, you could add some chlorophyll producing DNA into someone's cells and over the course of a few months or years they could gain the ability to eat slightly less if they spent a significant amount of their day sitting in the sun. Or they could absorb a protein which works like fibrin but a bit more efficiently, so their wounds scab over a bit more quickly. Maybe if they're lucky(I'm not sure if these exist in nature) they could find more efficient versions of the energy converting structures used by their cells to gain a bit more endurance off of their body's fat and sugar reserves. With the right proteins they could become more resistant to cold temperatures or make their skin glow slightly if they wanted to. I recall reading at one point about an organism with a protein that repaired the "junk DNA" on the ends of the strands, thereby preventing aging, which is probably the most exciting item on the list. Keep in mind, if you go down this path that the changes will take a while to kick in, the cells need time to actually produce the required proteins and for those proteins to reach useful levels in the body.

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I'd say it would be a dangerous trait for the safety of the organism. Many traits of an organism have to go together. If you alter/replace one of the bits of genetic information, it will mess up the others. I'm thinking of mammals' eyeballs: they need to be round, include a lens, include a retina, an optic nerve, the visual cortex of the brain, the eyelid, tear glands, tear ducts, the muscles that control the eye, etc. Altering a piece of that is like altering the position of a card in a card house. It might be okay, but the chances much greater that there would be unpleasant consequences.

Regardless of the level of tech, which I can't quite wrap my mind around, it seems as though extensive "beta testing" of the new trait would be required to work out all the bugs.

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