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In the Sovereign Spirit Saga an airborne zombie virus spreads benignly through the world for a few weeks.

The first to be infected spread it via the air and the virus was mutating slightly. Every virus mutated the exact same abilities and did it in the same timeframe. By April 1st the virus simultaneously mutated and became transmissible only by bite and also mutated the ability to turn the infected people rabid.

Is this type of fixed rate mutation possible in a genetically engineered virus?

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    $\begingroup$ Another possibility is that the virus doesn't mutate. Instead it stays airborne and everyone gets it, but the virus isn't what kills you. It's only what brings you back once you die. The zombie bite kills you because they are dead and so you receive a massive dose of infection, so much so that it overwhelms your immune system, and that's what kills you. If you die in an accident you still come back as a zombie. I'm leaving it as a comment since this doesn't actually answer your question. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 8 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 and I am not necessarily looking to clone the 'walking dead' zombie virus. I thought 'rabid' implied the live zombies....e.g. Super Rabies ;-) $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 8 '15 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I missed the live zombie part. The walking dead isn't the only place to use that idea. The book Ex-Heroes has something similar, or at least that's where I heard the idea first. I believe Ex-Heroes was published before the walking dead tv show, but after the graphic novel. I have no idea if the idea was borrowed or not. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 8 '15 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ You say the virus is genetically engineered, but is it released on purpose, or accidentally? $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 May 8 '15 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 On purpose. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 8 '15 at 18:29
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I could be wrong, but there may be better places to ask this. It has more to do with epidemiology and science than any real world-building.

However, if you're looking for a way to describe a similar event through story-telling there are plenty of ways you could do so. Depending on technology levels (assuming the same rough time frame as your reference), perhaps they could release other benign airborne infectants or chemical compounds that react with the virus in known ways, thus gradually controlling its evolution through a similar dispersion method as the virus' initial release.

I find it, however, extremely unlikely that all the released virus would evolve in exactly the same or similar manners given natural causes. Especially if it spread world-wide, different strains would develop in response to their locale, adapting to survive different temperature extremes, and to overcome varying levels of societal hygiene and vaccination based on the greater common values of the population they infect.

As seen here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus#Genetic_mutation (I know wikipedia isn't always the most reliable source), as different strains adapt to their individual situations they also produce offspring, which in turn can have their own unique characteristics, and so on. You would have to make a virus extremely resistant to outside stimuli to keep it from evolving in varying ways throughout the planet, while still leaving it suspectible enough that it can be manipulated at a later date to become what you described. At the very least my limited understanding of the subject matter would suggest it would be one heck of a balancing act.

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Your main problem is the time delay, causing it to trigger on the same day in everyone infected is basically impossible. Even if you counted number of replications that would still drift by a large amount. There would need to be some other cause that triggered the transition to the hostile form - most likely an otherwise harmless chemical agent.

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Since this is some kind of genetically engineered viral terror attack, here's how you could have it change all at once.

Based on the virus' reproduction rate you set up a kind of timed trigger. The virus is programmed to inject it's primary viral RNA payload for the first 500 cycles, and then switch over to a secondary RNA payload which is the super rabies.

The second is to have it spread by a non viral method like nanomachines. The machines spread from person to person, and at a specific time release the virus into the bloodstream. They are using nanomachines to deliver anti-cancer drugs, so they could probably deliver other things too, like a killer virus.

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I think you could almost do this, if you assume we have far better bio-engineering skills then we do now (which you know, is required for this premise to happen no matter what).

The easiest idea would be base the mutation off of the number of generations that have been spawned. The problem here is that the number of generations spawned is very hard to measure, because some cells may grow and reproduce faster then others. For example, say that walk into a the hospital's new-born care room and declare your give 100 dollars to each of these newborns when they become a grandparent, how long will you have to wait? Well, it could be as little as little as 23 years or as long as 95 years one of those is nearly 4 times as long as the other, that's clearly a very different length of time! Thus it's hard to pinpoint an exact year or even decade that your need to start forking over money.

However, if you had a more accurate way of measure time passing for a cell then you could do this. If the cells could say "a time unit of this long as passed" in any way the rest is pretty 'simple'. You could have each cell encode what amounts to a chemical counter that increments each time a new time unit passed. When your cell divides both version of the cell get their own copy of the counter. Thus all the children and children of the children etc will have a counter that includes the count of time their parents and grandparents saw before dividing. You then just have to 'activate' when the counter reaches some appropriate value.

Any counter risks error, with drift or some screwing up. One way to fix this it to say that if one cell goes off it 'triggers' the others. This is not too difficult, as sending a chemical signal to other cells to trigger them is something viruses have been shown to do before. Thus so long as one cell manages to keep a proper 'count' it's okay if come cells screw up and mess up their count. With a virus infecting many thousands of cells, at a minimum, you have allot of margin for error. Thus your want to develop your virus to have a counter that can easily 'miss' a count, but will never count faster then it should. At least one infected cell should manage to have the correct count then.

So how can we build in a bio-clock, the original time teller we are counting? A halflife of an isotope is the most effective method of doing this, but this is pretty difficult since you have no way of ensuring the cells could get the appropriate radioactive material to use for halflife.

There may be other accurate ways of managing this counter, in fact I strongly suspect there are; but I'm not enough of a biology expert to say. So, while I think there may be an even more elegant solution, lets go with the one I know works. Use the host as your counter!

Humans have a regular routine that flucturates across the day, a routine regulated by many easily-detected chemical signals. If we could plug in to one that we could trust to be pretty accurate that would be great. The catch is finding a signal which we are relatively confident about how often it runs; one that won't drift, or will self correct. The easiest signal would be sleep!

We go asleep for 8 hours once a day. We may vary exactly when we sleep, or the hours each time, but your pretty confident to get one long 'dream-time' once a day. There are a whole host of chemicals and signals released while dreaming which can be detected and used to identify when a user is asleep. Thus you have the ability to roughly estimate when a day has passed by detecting that your host has gone to sleep.

Now this is not at all a perfect system, but with some careful working it may be a good-enough one. You would need to program in a way to handle situations where a host takes a 2 hour nap during the middle of the day for instance, but it is theoretically possible (with far more advanced genetic skills then we have mind you!!) to work in a way to ensure the counter only goes off when the host sleeps for at least 6 hours in a row. Of course some people may not sleep for 6 hours at once, they may get a combination of 4 hours over two nap times for some odd reason.

However, if our only goal is to ensure that the virus goes off NO SOONER then a set date this will work. Some viruses may not be triggered until after that date, but the majority will trigger on the correct date, and who's to know rather a new case is from a new infection or an old infection that was a few dates late on triggering?

Some work would also have to be done to handle situations where the virus jumps between hosts when host A just woke up and host B is about to go to sleep, but again this could likely be handled pretty easily by having a delay for when a virus starts 'counting' sleep cycles. Again, the idea is to allow some infected to trigger later, just never trigger earlier, so you can devise a system that errors on the side of caution.

I think a cleaner solution would exist if someone could create a 'half-life' like approach that gives a more accurate time measurement biologically; but until then a self-correcting approach like this wold mostly work. Mind you i don't think we realistically could develop this for awhile.

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Nano-machine Carriers

Your virus is timed to infect everyone immediately upon release, but isn't released until a specific trigger. The nano-machines help both in transmission of the virus as well as "releasing" the virus on a precise day as pre-programmed, all at the same time.

Expensive, but so is creating this virus.

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