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The year is 21XX. Scientists developped something able to permanently transform a sentient living being into another one with the same level of sentience. The transformation possibilities range from small cosmetic adjustments to changing a cranky old lady into a galloping young centaur boy while conserving her identity. Depending on the complexity of the transformation, it takes from a couple of minutes to a few weeks.

The twist is, they are still able to determine one's original identity with a DNA test. Since the transformation is literally morphing the subject's body and not just putting an illusion or a VR helmet on them, how do they do that ? Did they also tweak and enhanced the DNA test ? Is it an advanced case of chimerism ?

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing you're looking for something else than "they update the DNA profile for this person as well so they can track the person regardless of his DNA changes"? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Feb 11, 2021 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ You can call it the Gregor Samsa process. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Feb 11, 2021 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Does it need to be a viable centaur, or transformed organism needs to rely on technology-based life support? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Feb 11, 2021 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane Yes, the DNA sample of the transformed person would somehow match the DNA registered before the transformation $\endgroup$
    – Oddrigue
    Feb 11, 2021 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Yes, people transformed into hybrids or more complex lifeforms would be viable and as autonomous as their form allow them. So a a person transformed into a centaur would be able to go on with their life without any electronic/mechanical system. They may have some centaur course to learn how their horse body parts works though $\endgroup$
    – Oddrigue
    Feb 11, 2021 at 23:41

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You can enable and disable genes by using DNA methylation, this does not change the DNA composition by itself. You can also change gene expression throughout the body by many means such as precise hormone level tweaks.

It will not make you a bird but it may easily let you grow extra hands or tough skin or claws or whatever.

Consider also game modding, which can turn Half-Life into Counter-Strike or Warcraft III into DOTA - 0 of game code bytes changed. Genetic modding similarly, may choose to avoid changing actual genes at all.

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Totally plausible - Assuming nanobots can create faster than cells can regrow

As a massive simplification, DNA determines how your body will rebuild itself when repairs are needed. This is not the only factor in how the body currently looks - wear and tear, how much exercise I've done, makeup and hair, what clothes I'm wearing, and what drunk decisions I've made at the tattoo parlour, all contribute to my appearance.

Like annotating a printed page with a pen, I can change how something looks without changing the original document in the computer. When the page fades and it needs to be reprinted, my annotation will be gone, because I didn't modify the source, but if I diligently reapplied that annotation everytime the page is reprinted no-one would be any the wiser.

So your method of altering the body needs to use some other process - the most plausible is tiny little nanobots that either recycle existing cells that are not needed for their raw materials and then creates new cells of the required type, or destroy cells and take their place directly - a cyborg but with nanobot size tech.

Over time your body will try to "repair" itself, the nanobots need to be fast enough to stop this from taking place. They may also need to suppress and replace the immune system too.

So long as you replace failed nanobots quickly, and keep them powered, and properly firewall them so no-one can hack them, this should work fine.

The PCR test we use for DNA testing is very sensitive and DNA spreads everywhere (forensics are full of "detected DNA from a brief touch" stories) - so long as there are some original cells in there somewhere (eg you can decide "must keep brain - and thus must keep heart, lungs, etc.") you'd be able to get a DNA match.

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    $\begingroup$ That would lead to just nanobots doing just about everything. DNA is used for more than mitosis. It is used to make RNA, which are used for enzymes, which are used in nearly everything. Your nanobots need to prevent or change large amounts of this stuff if you still want a functional body that is radically different from what you started with. At that point it would nearly be easier to have a body comprised of nanobots instead of cells/cell nuclei. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Feb 11, 2021 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane Yes I'm aware - that's why my "what DNA does" part was labeled a massive simplification. Until the brain can run on a computer we're probably going to need lots of organs to remain to support it. That will need lots of the original cells and all their complexity. That will result in DNA being detectable. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Feb 11, 2021 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ Could the possible transformations not be limited by compatibility with vanilla human cellular metabolism? Does a centaur even need different enzymes? $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Feb 11, 2021 at 13:25
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Vat grown body but original brain.

My own genetic code is limited in how awesome a body it can produce. If I want an awesome body I will need alternative DNA. Fortunately there are many alternatives available and during my time in the vat, the process will substitute my original parts for vat grown parts with my original parts apoptosing and dropping away as they are replaced. New parts are HLA matched of course so my immune system does not take umbrage.

My brain however holds a vast trove of song lyrics and cookie recipes. The brain is irreplaceable. The body must be grown around my brain. Subsequent brain biopsy will confirm my original identity even though my svelte new body has only Oddrigue DNA.

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Yes it is very plausible if you don't significantly change body plan, or body chemistry.

Extreme plastic surgery.

With plastic surgery can add horn like bumps to a skull, add a non-functional tail. This is not done because of risk, expense, mostly non-functional appendages, and stigma of "why would you choose that?". Obviously this does not change DNA if source tissues are the persons own body.

Major problem of plastic surgery is hooking up nervous system. If this were solved, prosthetics would be a thing of the past. To change major skeleton elements ie tetrapod to hexapod and have those change be functional will be beyond science for much longer time frame.

Growing limbs via stimulation.

Search for "Michael Levin" regrow frog legs. This person's research is able to cause limbs to grow on frogs. Something like this may able to create more functional body parts.

So directed growth of new limbs combined with plastic surgery can gain many forms, more limited by budget and can a persons mind adapt to the new body.

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  • $\begingroup$ Difficulty is that you need different mechanics for different builds. Horse legs require a different energy distribution, requiring different enzymes, RNA and ultimately DNA. Not to mentiin different organs to support it. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Feb 12, 2021 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane Agreed. My assumption is that economics/practicality limit this sort of thing. Typical Star Trek aliens? sure. Fantastical beasts? Not so much. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2021 at 20:36
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Change everything, except reproductive organs

Changing someone into insane and complex shapes will require a full overhaul of the DNA. To achieve certain shapes it's likely you'll go through many DNA sequences in between to get there safely.

You might be able to lock away the original DNA in the cell while the new DNA does the work, but that is wasteful in energy and maintenance of the body. Even though it might be possible, any society would likely still choose for the low cost option of changing the full DNA strain.

But there is something that everyone is likely to want to do and needs to have a clear, concise and most of all identical for all humans. Reproduction. People are unlikely to want to give up making children via sex. If you want to reproduce you need to have compatible DNA, so everyone would need to have this basis. Likely human babies would still look like humans, as not changing the already accepted method/shape is easiest.

A body would be fully changed, except for (parts of) the reproductive system. Although people might still require some changes before sex can be initialized (you don't know beforehand if they'll meet a cat or a centaur), the reproductive system is ready and has the original DNA.

The immune system can make exception for other DNA, like with organ transplants or a duozygotic twin having pieces of a brother or sister growing inside them. So it is doable.

This can be a strong real reason for still being able to see the original DNA. Unfortunately it doesn't help in crime cases or something if you need it for that. If you need that, possibly (parts of) the skin can be forced to still contain the original DNA.

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Have you noticed that when lizards lost it tail it growth again, but that does not work for human. And I believe that why your idea may work. Your morphology is a complexes process that could not be determined by DNA alone, other factors such as your environment and epigenetic may play a role. But after 25 years old human stop growing.

If the body is changed by surgery like operation after this age. I see no reason the body would take back is original form. Your growth is over. Your body have indeed limited repair function, but not that large. I don't see how the DNA could drastically impact the morphology of a grown up human being.

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