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There is a common trope in a lot of fiction where humans are enhanced by adding or changing genes. Could we artificially enhance someone by minimally changing someone's DNA?

I have a few specifics:

  1. Could this be done by just changing DNA, not by adding another species' DNA?
  2. Could a change in DNA specifically affect telomeres, slowing or stopping the cell dying process?
  3. Could all of this be done at conception when a human is just one cell?

This is all assuming advanced technology, like the ability to fully map a human genome and an understanding of how each specific part impacts a human.

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closed as too broad by Mołot, sphennings, Azuaron, kingledion, Mormacil May 12 '17 at 17:21

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ It looks like you're asking 3 separate questions. We have a one question per post policy on this site. Could you edit your post so that you are asking a single question? $\endgroup$ – sphennings May 12 '17 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ See CRISPR $\endgroup$ – Joe Kissling May 12 '17 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ 1. yes, this is done a lot - maybe not with humans, but this is done a lot. 2. anything can be done but I do not know why this would have the results you suggested. 3. yes, but why would it be done then? That sounds like the worst possible time. Maybe you are thinking of mitochondrial dna? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 12 '17 at 15:35
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  1. Could this be done by just changing DNA, not by adding another species' DNA?

Technically speaking yes. But writing some new code of DNA would generally be much more challenging, than just copy&paste some working one.

  1. Could a change in DNA specifically affect telomeres, slowing or stopping the cell dying process?

Yes... Just this system is designed to protect organism against cells that started to multiple in uncontrollable way. Every cancer has to crack this safety mechanism, and such modification would decrease its effectiveness. (so less aging, more cancer)

  1. Could all of this be done at conception when a human is just one cell?

Human? Being a one cell??? What a fundamentalist religious right claim :D

Actually modifying organism when its just one cell is the most viable way. (The only alternative would be transmitting it later, through virus, but such process would be messy, hard to control and partial)

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  • $\begingroup$ Though I agree with the hard to control part, do you think that if you could get something to change just the DNA of skin cells,it would work? I would think that only new cells that start to grow would be affected and then the old skin cells would just fall off in time. Though this would only work because skin cycling is much faster than other things in the body. Obviously changes like this wouldn't be passed down. $\endgroup$ – Necessity May 12 '17 at 17:38
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A couple of limitations to consider:

How much time do you have in your story to achieve the enhancement desired?

If you are not in a hurry, a good plan is to imitate Nature, and make very small modifications over many generations. This provides large room for error by allowing natural selection to do its job. If the modification is a good one, then it will survive the test of time and continue to appear repeatedly. When satisfied with the results, another very small modification is attempted.

How much are you willing to risk your one cell that is being modified?

Considering how often unexpected genetic mutations are rejected biologically through spontaneous abortion, there is a high rate of rejection to certain gene modifications that are not compatible with life. Making modifications at a one-cell level for what becomes a many-celled being then, seems to take a bit of finesse, even assuming full knowledge of the genome and using advanced technology. If you are willing to accept very high risk to this one cell that, left alone, has a fairly good chance to survive, then you could try at that level. This could be because although you know the genome well, you don't yet know how changing that genome will affect how it materializes physically.

If you are not willing to risk that life, then waiting until it is fully mature and able to consent to providing unpaired sex cells (egg or sperm) for modification prior to forming the whole next being is a more prudent route.

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