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I have a loose grasp that only some modifications to human DNA would have an actual change to a person, but would it be possible to simply bypass DNA and create a body part? Take wings, would it be possible to bypass genes and engineer an actual pair and then attach the muscles, bones, nerves, etc... Assuming we could, would we be able to use them, because "theoretically" it would be like learning how to walk since there are nerves attached that we just haven't used.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Mołot, kingledion, sphennings, Thucydides, L.Dutch Jul 4 '17 at 5:13

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't really understand what you are asking. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jul 3 '17 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ i don't think this is exactly on topic but human beings can't have wings like angels. The muscles for wings are not on the wing but are on the chest. This space is already taken up by our arm's muscles. $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jul 3 '17 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ Keywords for a websearch are: Transhumanism, Body Augmentation. $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Jul 4 '17 at 15:18
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Yes. It's possible and probably easier than you think. Our brains have plasticity and adapt to the loss of a limb, but also remarkably will adapt to "sensing" a tool as an extension of the arm, called peri-hand extension.

enter image description here

Put in simple terms, while using a tool the brain believes the tool is an extension of the arm (photo is from link above). Remove the tool and the brain has a lingering distorted perception of the body's shape. A scientist Alessandro Farné has published his research but unfortunately I only found it behind a paywall. A google search will lead you to pop-science articles and summaries of the research.

The brain creates a dynamic bodymap for motor control, and this map will update to include a sword at the end of your arm, Crutches as an extension of your "legs", and the full size of a car when you are driving (“Car Body” Phenomenon). FWIW, the location of this map in the brain is likely the cortical homunculus.

"Awareness" of the wings is in the brain, not in the wing's nerve endings. As when you drive a car, the actual mechanics of pulling levers and pushing on pedals becomes unconscious. You just focus on "driving" – that is, you just think about maneuvering through traffic using your spatial awareness and senses, no different (at least consciously) than running through a crowd. Meanwhile your brain has broken down dozens of arbitrary mechanical activities into muscular control (rotate a wheel to turn left), and is adapting your sensory information to the specific task (visual distance to the next car, the sound and vibration of the tires on the road). Learning to operate a bicycle, is mentally very different from riding a bicycle. Once you learn it you don't think about it anymore.

With your wings, the flyer's brain has to learn to operate the wings and interpret the sensory information for the task. The actual signal from the nerves are simplistic (like a repetitive tapping noise), and there might not be much signal difference when feeling the tip of the wing graze against furniture and the wing vibrating from an updraft during flight, but the brain will interpret those nerve signals very differently while walking around the room or flying. Other senses play an enormous role in confirming sensory information too. Your flyer's brain will be interpreting the feeling of wind on the skin, the sound of the air rushing past, the pull of muscles on the wings, as well as visual cues to determine speed, height, balance, etc. The whole brain works together to coordinate the sensory information, so your artificial nerves might be simpler than you think.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer +1. I learnt new things, peri-hand extension, that's very helpful for my understanding of how human cognition system works :) $\endgroup$ – Mishu 米殊 Jul 4 '17 at 4:31
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I have a loose grasp that only some modifications to human DNA would have an actual change to a person, but would it be possible to simply bypass DNA and create a body part ?

Do you wear glasses ? I wear these extensions to my body most of the time.

So, yes, we can do some things like that.

Take wings, would it be possible to bypass genes and engineer an actual pair and then attach the muscles, bones, nerves, etc...

Could we build wings ?

Yes and No.

Building actual biological components that would blend into our own bodies does not seem at all practical. Our hearts and lungs are not designed for this extra muscle and circulatory system. The skeleton would be problematic - we're designed for certain types of stress distributions and where or how you'd meld additional load bearing support is hard to imagine. The joints to existing structure would be critical and almost certainly prone to failure without significant re-engineering.

You'd essentially be building a new body.

Would they work well ?

Not really.

We lack the muscle power to drive wings - and that includes what your cardiovascular system can support. We lack the skeletal structure to support ourselves for extended periods while flying in that way. We probably could not flap wings in a useful way without severe strain on our cardiovascular system.

But we do have hang gliders already, so we do in fact have wings you can acquire relatively easily and employ relatively easily (if, unlike me, jumping off heights makes sense to you :-)).

A hang glider, plane or glider is, in a sense, exactly what you want : an extension of your body to allow controlled flight.

There's the famous jet pack. Not exactly wings, but flight.

I dare say in the future we could in principle build a powered suit capable of flight using wings in a more compact stored form - you need quite a lot of wing to support a human so deployed you need something like a (yep) hang glider's wing area.

Assuming we could, would we be able to use them, because "theoretically" it would be like learning how to walk since there are nerves attached that we just haven't used.

This is a different issue : control mechanisms.

We don't have a way to directly control devices by neural impulses, although there have been research projects and some specialist devices that do this is a limited way - see Neuroprosthetics.

But flying is complex. It's not something we're natural at. It is claimed that humans have some instinct for walking, running, climbing and even swimming, but not flying.

It's hard to imagine a straightforward way to do that using some kind of neural interface (something we're still learning the basics of).

A hang glider (them again :-)) is a relatively natural extension of your own body in terms of control. Shifting your weight does things that, by practice, becomes natural. The control system is relatively simple to learn.

Devices like hang gliders are so much simpler to deploy that it's hard to see any advantage in attaching wings permanently. Not that that ever stopped anyone doing something.

There are indications that we could in principle retrain nerves to control artificial limbs, but that's research and by no means a certainty. What we lack is spare nerves to control extra limbs.

Engineering that as a "graft" would require altering your brain. This is the sort of over-complex bio-engineering I don't see as useful.

We're much better at designing clever gadgets we can use and remove when we want. Why do something that's not easily reversed when the existing approach (tech you wear) works so well ?

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Absolutely. We are already making body parts (not important organs, though) for people born without them. If you are able to artificially shape the new organ in a desired way and then properly implant/attach it, this will work. The new organ needs to be made up of cells with the same DNA as your host, to avoid any rejection issues.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some citations or videos of demos of this in action could be great! $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Jul 3 '17 at 21:11
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There is absolutely no doubt that it could work in theory, people do transplantations all the time btw, but no sane person would implant biological wings. It would certainly make biological reproduction hard because you basically become a monster in the eyes of most people. Also be aware that a lot of regular human stuff works because we do not have wings (have you ever been in a crowded train, on a plane or sat down on a chair?), winged people would face problems everywhere.

But please consider that people are currently working on translating thoughts into something a computer can interprete, here a very popular example, please forgive me if it isn't scientific enough:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528733-300-stephen-hawking-trials-device-that-reads-his-mind/

Yes, you could in theory and given let's say 100 years of scientific progress design a completely new biological body part, but there is an easier solution that I think is much more likely to actually happen: A biological/mechanical hybrid. Have an biological/mechanical interface of some kind (and I mean any kind, let's leave it as broad as this) control a mechanical apparatus. Transplanting a leg or something that humans actually have is one thing, but you already mentioned that one would need to "learn how to fly" if you come up with a whole new body part. If you have a machine with decent programming behind it, one could fly almost immediately. The best thing would be that it should be possible to have your wings (or whatever, I personally think a computer would be most useful) detachable.

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One would need to make a distinction between adding or accessorizing and integrating. Grafting on additional biological structure is one level of problem. Ignoring compatibility issues, the new tissue needs biological support - oxygenation, nutrition, waste removal etc. from the host which will have limits to its capacity.

Assuming the musculature of the new wings could be integrated into the circulatory and nervous systems and adequately anchored (graft in a keel bone among other things), our brains are probably plastic enough to learn how to use them - after all when we become skilled at driving cars and flying airplanes they practically become extensions of ourselves.

But there are at least a couple of other issues:

Human bodies have one relatively unique specialization - we are excellent at persistence hunting - efficiently and relatively tirelessly covering long distances at modest speeds. It means our bodies and metabolism aren't exactly optimized for the sort of demands placed by flying. We don't have hollow bones to make us as light as possible and we can't rev up our hearts and lungs to the extent needed to take off and sustain flight. Maybe we could live with a pair of wings, maybe even do a little gliding with them, but without serious modifications to the entire body, we'd likely never be able to actually get ourselves airborne with them.

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