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After years and years of genetic advancement and research, a group of cutting-edge scientists have finally perfected the technology of shapeshifting. They can blend select DNA strands of a given animal with the DNA of a human egg in order to create a single-animal shapeshifter. While the ability to transfer from human to animal is undeniably magical, the story covers the magic with a veneer of science, and the characters consider it science rather than magic. Most of the technological development up to this point was entirely scientific in nature with no help from magic, and the world has technology that almost achieves this point. (I am playing with the border between fantasy and sci-fi.)

Given their ambitious (and largely magic-less) scientific pursuits, what other technologies would likely be developed on the way to discovering this one?

GenTech in Solna

This world, and the society of Solna in particular, has long had a serious interest in genetic research. In addition to the shapeshifters as described, there are many other gentech advancements, and plenty of room for more. They breed crops to be more efficient and resistant to disease, they utilize stem cells to heal injuries faster and more completely than we can, and re-purpose things found in nature to suit them at will, such as reimagining whale hearts as pumps.

The Natural World

At the same time, this society has a huge focus on harmony. The gross excesses that we see in our society, where we take freely from nature without care for what we destroy in the process, are not seen here. There are excesses, as there always will be, but large-scale destruction is stopped and reversed. They pay careful attention to how their use of resources affect the larger world and do their best to maintain the balance found in nature. Not every society in this world enforces these practices, so you would find strip-mining and similar exploitation in some places, but the dominant culture does.

Communication

I'm reluctant to let this world have the Internet. If the computational power of a computer is necessary to sequence the human genome or any other steps integral to the process of making shapeshifters, then we can have computers, but the extreme power of freely accessible information would radically change my world in ways I'm not prepared for.

I'm okay with radio and similar inventions that make communication easier, but I don't want the universal access to instant communication (or worse, instant recording capabilities) granted by cell phones and the like. So, if possible, I'd like this technological path to not include such free and easy communication.

To Sum Up

I am trying to make sure that I haven't missed anything - that I don't have people sequencing the human genome who haven't developed electricity. (Aside: They have electricity everywhere that isn't Gare.) What forms of technology need to be developed, or likely would have been developed, in the process of creating shapeshifters? A good answer wouldn't necessary list every single technological advancement (the wheel! ironworking!) but instead would cover a general overview of what kind of technology modern people have free access to in different areas of their lives, or perhaps what the cutting edge of various fields would look like.

I have a host of misgivings about this question (too broad? no possible right answer?), but I figured I'd give it a go and see what feedback I receive to improve it. At the very least, I hope it's interesting to discuss.

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    $\begingroup$ My suggestion is to cut a lot of the backstory/extra details and focus on exactly what it is you want to get from us. As it stands, anyone who wants to reply would first need to spend 15-20 minutes trying to understand your particular universe before they could answer. I gave up reading half way through. Example: penal colony has magic, but little tech, while rest of the world has tech based on this principle (give examples). What sort of tech would be allowed in the penal colony? You'd need 2 paragraphs to explain the situation at most. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Feb 8 '16 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a better summing up is in order. As I see it you're looking for the technology timeline that includes: Advanced genetic engineering, alternative energy, advanced nautical navigation, long distance but low bandwidth communication, rocketry, and advanced materials processing. Yeah? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 8 '16 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ I have tried to remove all extraneous information and focus on a single question. Is this better? How else can I improve it? $\endgroup$ – Jerenda Feb 8 '16 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ If I may suggest a second approach to the problem: what kind of technologies would be important to your storyline? Daring to pop a bubble, you can't make shapeshifters simply by blending DNA, so there wont be a truly "realistic" series of technologies. The little help from magic you mention will be a required part of the puzzle. Accordingly, pretty much any technological step you please can be skipped along the way, and magic will pick up the slack. Thus the kinds of technologies you are interested in writing to are potentially a better filter than those needed for shapeshifting. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 8 '16 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ Better to write a story you'll have fun writing than one burdened by the need to include technologies that had to be invented along the way. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 8 '16 at 23:42
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More Questions than Answers

There are lots of variables to consider in order to be able to answer your question.

Are the shapeshifters in your story primarily engaged in technology and research, but just happen to care about the natural world? Are they primarily a low-tech society, but just happen to have an aggressive genetics science program, aided with a bit of nature magic?

Is the shapeshifting end result from the genetic/magic efforts something of a rarity that they bestow only upon a sub-class of their citizenry, or is it so ubiquitous that everyone is affected?

The "blending" of animal and human DNA sounds as though a single shapeshifter would have but two forms: human, and a particular animal. Is that the case, or is the end result more far-reaching, enabling shifters to assume any animal form?

In your world, is shapeshifting an instant ability, or something that takes considerable time? If the former, you have to decide how to explain matter and energy conservation; or if the latter, you might want to explain with a more biological rationale, possibly requiring less magic or hand-waving. Instant shape changing is practically a super-power, while slowly morphing from one form to another can more realistically deal with the addition or loss of mass.

Technological Assets

In my view, the scientific prerequisites to manipulate genetic information, at least in our history, are many and varied. The contributions from physics, for example, led to optics that allowed us to explore increasingly smaller subjects, from insects to individual cells to molecules; with atoms themselves requiring altogether different technology from electromagnetism and chemistry.

It's difficult to imagine a society that would have the necessary scientific prowess to intelligently manipulate DNA and understand the outcomes of complex genomes, proteins, and interactions of countless biological and chemical processes without the ability to share information quickly and efficiently. Though perhaps your world has an intellectual or scientific center, where the best minds cultivate and share ideas without the need to communicate across continents. I suppose you could conceive of a world where scientific breakthroughs are accelerated via magic, and nurtured in a fantastic academic community. (Not unlike how many modern-day conveniences began as ideas in universities and corporations around the world.)

In many settings where shapeshifters exist, they are often portrayed as nature-loving. They're protectors of flora and fauna, often understand animals on a level "normal" humans cannot, and are frequently secluded and mysterious. Perhaps the only difference in your world is that they arrived at their position in no small part due to technological focus and perseverance. Their principles of understanding and safeguarding nature was the ultimate drive to integrate it into their very lifeblood.

What other byproducts might a society like this have, if their ultimate goal was to achieve shapeshifting ability? Certainly as you mention, their command of GMOs would be second to none. High-yield crops with all the desired attributes: pest resistance, drought tolerance, negligible side-effects, etc.

The biotech industry that we have today in the real world I think provides a glimpse of what they might have perfected: organ and limb replacement, cloning, surgical and medical excellence, pathogen-fighting supremacy, and so on. The diseases we currently struggle to understand and fight might be mere shadows of their past.

Scientific Setbacks

Perhaps this culture has sacrificed other aspects of discovery and innovation in pursuit of their chosen proficiency. It might be interesting to consider what their weaknesses might be, from a technology perspective. If their history has generally enjoyed peace, perhaps they have limited or nonexistent weapon technology (though their bioweapons, if forced to develop them, would probably be formidible). As you already stated, perhaps their communication technologies are comparatively weak. Their understanding and knowledge of the galaxy and universe might be laughable. It's conceivable that their idea of travel is firmly encapsulated in the abilities and forms of animals, leading to underdeveloped versions of combustion, rocketry and other forms of energy-to-motion conversion.

I think advanced understanding of biological systems and genetics requires good foundations in chemistry, physics and mathematics, but it's conceivable that they might have missed certain developments in areas we are proficient. That said, the precursors to working with delicate, microscopic systems must certainly involve basic metallurgy, mechanical systems (pulleys, wheels, levers), and puzzle-solving.

Humankind has often been driven to discover and innovate amidst the pressures of war, famine, and difficulty. What are the historical adversities of your society? Perhaps these can help dictate what they might have developed (accidentally or not), and what they might have missed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your questions are great, but I am hesitant to answer them all in the original question lest it become too unwieldy. Therefore: only a few select people are shapeshifters; they're single-animal shapeshifters; and I imagine that this society is advanced in general, but in different areas than our world, effectively like what you described in your answer. I currently have them shifting rather quickly, but I like your idea of going slowly and I will keep it in reserve. $\endgroup$ – Jerenda Feb 9 '16 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ My questions are mostly rhetorical, to prompt some additional ideas that maybe you hadn't considered (maybe I succeeded). Certainly if you wanted to create new questions with narrower scope, I'd be interested in follow-ups! $\endgroup$ – JYelton Feb 11 '16 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I'm not entirely happy with this question, so we'll see. :) $\endgroup$ – Jerenda Feb 12 '16 at 16:01
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Electricity isn't strictly necessary, although it would certainly make things easier.

Fundamentally you need tools that allow you to scan and analyse DNA. You need tools that allow you to modify and merge that DNA. You need some way to make the resulting creature viable. This could all actually be done using bio-tech and have no other technology needed at all.

The problem would be explaining how the bio-tech was developed in the first place, once you have it you don't need anything else but without it you can't develop it.

You are going to need computing power, optics for magnification, DNA sequencers and something to design and build your new DNA modification. The trouble is that each of those things is itself dependent upon a whole sequence of other similar things.

So really you are talking modern technology levels (or 1990s at the minimum) and then some extra advances in genomics and genetic manipulation.

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