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I have a book where in the future a sterility disease spreads across the world making people unable to have children. Then, a company rises to power and using CRISPR are able to make babies again. Later parents are able to design their children completely; eye color, hair color, body type all that.

Well also in this world is what are called "Freaks" teens who have had the wrong Gene's activated and so they grow up deformed. (My main character is super fat instead of muscular). Because the sterility disease that the world is still recovering from, it is illegal to kill The Freaks. Then someone, for nefarious purposes, starts killing The Freaks.

The company also is the only establishment to work for. so they hold like a lottery see who gets the good jobs out of the "poor". The winners of the lottery are then stuck in a competition to see who can make it and be employed. Those who lose are kicked out and left to die on the streets.

My dilemma

  1. Why are freaks being made? I had the idea originally that genetics Is a finite science and human error causes mess ups. But a company of this size would only employ the BEST, and would catch on to the ones messing up. I could chalk it up to beginners mistakes but again that seems unlikely...

    I had another idea that maybe the poorer people are having their kids make from a cheaper virus with CRISPR or a more diluted version of the virus that is more prone to mistake. But then again why would the company sell it in the first place if they now have to pay to kill off the people they made...

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  • $\begingroup$ One question per post please. And if you remove the wall of text it might be easier to understand what you are asking. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 10 '19 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I'm new here. $\endgroup$ – Stupidzombiet Nov 10 '19 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ CRISPR not CRISPer. And you may want to proofread your question; as it is, it is hard to follow -- "in loo", "the someone", etc. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 10 '19 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ I wasnt sure thanks! $\endgroup$ – Stupidzombiet Nov 10 '19 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ "But a company of this size would only employ the BEST, and would catch on to the ones messing up" you could say a similar thing for a lot of companies we have in our world right now and you'd be wrong. You might have something "too big to fail" in terms of the company itself won't go bankrupt but not "too big to not have failures". Besides in a cyberpunk-ish world, tech and science would be the ones ruining society and would be ruined by society in return. It's a constant cycle of imperfection exposing the failures in both society and tech. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Nov 10 '19 at 20:41
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CRISPR isn't perfect

Alright, let's get into the science behind CRISPR gene altering and why it can fail horribly. CRISPR is pretty awesome, it's a fairly accurate gene splicing technique which we borrowed from bacteria which lets us cuts out the parts of DNA we don't want. It's pretty accurate, given that we can give it direct parts of the DNA to cut. Unfortunately, that's the only thing it does. It's like when you want to assemble a ransom note so you use a pair of scissors to cut out sections of a newspaper. Except all CRISPR can do it cut out sections. If you want to take those snips, or more accurately what we're trying to do here, take the newspaper and replace the words you've cut out with other words that make sense, you need other mechanisms to do that. And we don't have those kinds of mechanism, we just kind of just release the DNA into the target zone. (Okay, it's a little more directed than that. But not like a lot more complicated. The method is nowhere near as good as CRISPR, which itself isn't perfect.)

Basically, CRISPR isn't 100% successful - which makes sense. This isn't a computer program that's being edited bit by bit - you're dealing with biological life which always has a chance of failure, and is subject to weird phenomena like Browning Motion. Even in the future, it's highly unlikely you'd be able to have a 100% success rate and what will most likely happen is that you'll make these 'designer babies' in large batches (maybe like 100 at a time, especially if you're doing multiple gene edits). Also, since we're in the future, we'll have mastered the whole 'artificial womb' thing, so everything which seems viable can just be tried, especially if children are needed.

So, recap: CRISPR isn't perfect, a lot of designers babies get made, artificial wombs for all, and the Freaks are a result of that.

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Different offers

Making a perfect human is quite difficult, needs lots of quality control, paperwork, etc. and therefore it's expensive. However, you can avail of the cheaper option. But this has none of the quality assurance that the "Platinum package" has, and therefore carries a much greater risk of deformities.

This way you don't have to worry about "The BEST" employees screwing up, it's just that the customer didn't pay enough for them to put in the meticulous attention to detail that's required.

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There is more to the sterility disease than just sterility.

Where does this disease come from? How does it work? Maybe people in your world still do not really understand (a la Children of Men). The CRISPR thing was a workaround.

The sterility disease does not roll over that easy. Sterility is the main thing and if a fetus dies in utero that is the only manifestation. But there are other aspects to this disease, and in some persons this disease can affect more than one system. Bypassing the most lethal part with CRISPR allows babies to be born despite being infected, but secondary and tertiary effects of the disease can affect a subset of persons. It is hard to anticipate all the possible effects of this disease and sometimes it can still affect an individual. Thus the freaks.

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Min-maxers.

If you are willing to sacrifice secondary effects and sign the paperwork, your progeny can get a Specialist Template. Superhuman in THAT area. At the expense of allergies, fat, hair loss... Did you sign the Non-Disclosure Agreement?

-Hooooley moley! That guy set the record for IQ! 651!

-Who, the fat freak?

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1) You are editing multiple genes at once... and are shocked that after editing hundreds of genes you got one, single random mutation that turned out to be problematic? I'd personally go this way - sure, you can edit just a few more problematic genes and make practically no mistakes, but then you would produce mass-produce substandard humans. It's much better to go big and produce 99% of transhumans and 1% of weird mutants.

2) If you accept a very limited number of "freaks" - de novo mutations, yes the company did its job perfectly, just they mutated in the womb.

3) "finite science"? Do you just stick with existing alleles or are you going to write your own?

4) Freakish gene interactions. There are quite contentious (possibly a few factors involved in some conditions). For example, autism seems to be at least influenced by genetics... but what exactly? I've seen a study showing that it's being correlated with high IQ alleles, that otherwise would be considered as beneficial. De novo mutations affecting gene expression (there is a clear impact of father's age)? Some extra environmental factors including fetal life (identical twins are likely to have it too, but it's not guaranteed. In other words - it would be like programming. Theoretically, we understand how programming languages work, however crashes do happen.

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To express individual diversity

For all of human history, humans have been diverse, not out of choice, but out of necessity. Everyone had different strengths, everyone had different weaknesses, and people learned to value these differences because they didn't really have a choice in the matter.

The perfection of CRISPR means an end to genetic illness, but it has a dark side. Once an image of the "ideal" human is created, everyone will be like that. When everyone can be super-athletic, super-intelligent, basically perfect in every way, why would anyone be different?

Except that isn't really what happens - because people like to express their individuality. Gene fashions will come and go like clothing fashions, and as with clothing, there will always be those who need to be even more different, just to go against the crowd. Some changes will be minor, like people who prefer brown-eyes when blue eyes are in, or those who think that maybe a bit of fat isn't so bad after all in a world where nobody has it. And then you get the real weirdos, who take modification to the extreme, just because they can. That's where the "freaks" come from.

Now at some point there will likely be laws to prevent this kind of thing from happening, since it could be considered child abuse. But the exact line can be blurry. Freaky can be cool, after all, especially in a world where genetic sameness is the norm. And some expectant parents will simply ignore the laws, just as they do today.

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Because they need genetic diversity in a way that can't be engineered.

To start with the human body is complex. It is a micro-biosphere where everything has a consequence for something else. If you make someone able to run marathons their entire life then they forgo much of the enhanced strength. Additionally even if you gave people incredible brains then it would still be up to those people to use them. If all you do is run marathons then those brains will not develop half as well as someone with the same brain pattern who focusses on specific things. Even those brains will need to sacrifice one thing in favor of another.

Min/maxing isn't exactly the best way to go about making the best humans. It works for a few of them but if everyone is a specialist in only a few things you'll miss out on a lot of nuance. Pure strength and pure stamina builds will lose out in day-to-day lives to someone who combines them. A pure mathematical brain will lose out a lot of the social capabilities and other less defineable things in the world.

On top of that inbreeding could be a huge factor. Two mathematical min/maxer's would, if the infertility disease stops, create stillborn babies or babies with deficiencies.

To combat this there is a certain randomness to these genetic CRISPR babies. Some traits will be specified in the baby, genetic diseases erased, but otherwise the scientists working on the babies just don't want to mess around with the consequences of designing 100% of the genome. The cells are tested for viability and potential outcome, but there is no 100% guarantee. Even if the genome is 100% designed there's usually something overlooked by the researchers simply because the human body is too complex and too dependent on outside influences as well as it's DNA, and over the course of your life there are many changes to your DNA to better adapt. So better to keep a portion of the DNA random with the chance that someone might have a tendency to get fat.

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