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Women are able to use magic by absorbing energy from a parallel dimension called the aether. They are able to access this dimension through a metaphysical organ in the body called the gate of life. By concentrating, this gate can "open" and absorb energy from the aether to produce spells in the real world. Magic is slow and complex, taking minutes to hours to perform. However, it can be powerful depending on the spell (growing crops, healing, etc) All women are born with this ability, but some are better at it than others. In this scenario, pregnancy would be treated like a long spell, taking the course of months. Men are still required for conception, but Energy must be absorbed through the gate from the aether to grow the fetus. Women are far more "in tune" with their reproductive cycle and functions. The mother can literally feel the life growing inside of her, and can communicate with it in some limited way.

I would like to expand on this premise and use magic in a way that actively influences the genes of a fetus. I want it to be effective and safe for the most part, but not completely remove danger or negative consequences. How can I use magic to this effect? What should be the risks involved?

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  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, make that an answer! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jul 5 '17 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor: Done. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 5 '17 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ How powerful and massive this engineering can be? Can it get to full-blown Eugenics, ultimately creating "Superhumans"? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 5 '17 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ I do want limitations. Not sure how to do so just yet. $\endgroup$ – user32862 Jul 5 '17 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Well, likely not all changes can be combined with others, and there are likely sideeffects from each change, depending on how the spells know if the changes work. Are they predictive, being able to predict the effect of genetic changes, or do they have recordings of genes to tell what genes do what? ... Do they need to operate like modern genetic theory, where to pin down traits, they need a (possibly large) sample size to determine what genes do what? $\endgroup$ – Malady Jul 5 '17 at 21:19
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As any well-educated woman knows, to effect genetic changes one uses the spell "ingeniatrix genetica" with its subclauses; for example "ingeniatrix genetica oculos cyaneos" to make the child's eyes blue, or "ingeniatrix genetica intellectualem" to make the child have a superior IQ. With enough aetheric energy available one can use more complex spells, such as "ingeniatrix genetica bellissimam dominatricem" to have a very beautiful and assertive daughter.

Prepare against side effects by superadding the spell "effectûs laterales prohibitrix" as soon as possible, ideally within 10 days after conception.

This is really Genetic Automagic 101; I would have thought that such basic genetic engineering spells were taught in girls' finishing schools throughout the realm, except possibly in some empoverished rural areas.

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One obvious goal of a magically manipulative mother would be to influence the size and strength of her fetal daughter's gates of life organ. The potential upside is that her daughter's magical abilities will outshine all other fem-mages of her age. The down side is that that daughter will someday become a teenager with all of the normal animosity and angst. Being the mother of such a powerful daughter will likely be a dangerous and potentially fatal endeavor.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for pointing out the incremental improvement of the Gate of Life organ. $\endgroup$ – KareemElashmawy Jul 5 '17 at 20:20
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Magic as an essential tool for pre-industrial genetic engineering has been widely used in two franchises: Geneforge and Ravnica. Additionally, your description of women is reminiscent of the Bene-Gesserit.

Geneforge

The Geneforge series by Spiderweb Software follows a conflict between the Shapers and their creations. The Shapers are a sect of magicians who learned how to use magic to create and manipulate life. First they learned that magic applied to certain reagents (such as a reptile egg) would modify the embryos within. Through massive amounts of trial and error they learned which applications of magic produced optimized results such as breathing fire (Fyora), semi-intelligent servants, or entire ecosystems. Then they learned how to magically charge organic reagents into a universal reagent: essence.

Eventually, they learned how to create a (magical?) microscope. In doing so they were able to view the fundamental 'scrolls' (DNA) in all living things. Then by mapping these scrolls and tracking what changed with magical application, they learned how to vastly improve their techniques in a targeted manner rather than through endless trial and error. This culminated in the creation of the Geneforge, a pool of essence designed to rewrite and augment the scrolls of a shaper or creation.

Simic Combine

In the Magic The Gathering plane of Ravnica, a city covers the entire plane and is controlled by 10 guilds. One of the guilds, the Simic Combine, was created to preserve the health of all life-forms on the plane. Eventually, one of its Guild Masters, Momir Vig, decided to lead the guild in a new direction: to improve life. Drawing upon their study of life, medicines, and biomancy. In particular their biomancers uses biomancy to mutate lifeforms or create new biotools such as the Cytoplasts.

Bene-Gesserit

In Frank Herbert's Dune Saga, the most active and prominent faction is the Bene Gesserit. They are a powerful and ancient order of women with a host of physical and mental abilities that earn them the moniker of "witches". In particular, by taking a poison that brings them to the edge of death, they gain the ability to control their internal biochemistry and access the memories of their female ancestors. The former enables them to create an antidote to the poison before it kills them. Those who fail this 'trial' die. In several instances it's pointed out that their biochemical control enables them to create poisons, or alter pregnancies up to and including determining the gender of their child.

Your Case

You state the following:

Women are able to use magic by absorbing energy from a parallel dimension called the aether.

Magic is slow and complex, taking minutes to hours to perform.

In this scenario, pregnancy would be treated like a long spell, taking the course of months.

Taking after Geneforge, these women can use trial and error to modify the zygote, embryo, or fetus. and track which applications of magic creates preferable alterations.

Since

The mother can literally feel the life growing inside of her, and can communicate with it in some limited way.

It follows that the mother can track which applications of magic created which effects. (Cause > effect)

Keeping track of this information and teaching it to new initiates much like the Shapers of Geneforge would enable them to build upon the knowledge and refine their processes. Furthermore, as Henry Taylor suggested, it would be optimal for these women to refine and optimize their child's life organ (and/or create the organ in a male child).

Furthermore, I recommend you refine your definition of her internal sense of the pregnancy and communication. The level of sensory input will strongly determine their ability to make precise changes and record/confirm the result. Similarly, the communication opens another door. Do you mean she can communicate with the unborn child? At what point (embryo, brain development, etc...). Similarly why is she able to sense the pregnancy as opposed to her own body, and at what point can this enable the same control (or at least sense) of biochemical control like the Bene Gesserit?

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I think that trying to directly change the genes is going to be too dangerous and too complex to manage. We've been intensively studying the human genome for decades, and we're not even close to being able to reliably say what genes are necessary for specific traits.

Rather, magic should be used to blend the foetal genome with that of another person or animal who has a desired trait, or to mold the body's features 'blindly'.

Blending

This would involve a woman focusing on a person or animal who has the desired trait - let's say blue eyes - and creating a connection between the desired one and the foetus. The woman wouldn't know exactly what was happening, but the magic would make the foetal DNA more like that of the desired one. The woman would get a 'feeling' when the change had been accomplished.

She could only change one trait at a time, and there would always be the possibility of other traits changing along with the one she wanted, or the new trait mixing unpredictably with existing traits. For example, she might want to copy a great politician's intelligence, but accidentally get his sociopathy along with it, or she might copy blonde hair and blue eyes into a foetus that already has reduced melanin production, and accidentally make her child albino.

Molding

This would be a rather hit-and-miss method, with a woman using a meditative state to blindly "Change" the foetus, and observe the result. If she liked the result, she could make the change permanent; if not, she could reverse it. The more deeply a mother could meditate, the more detail she could see in the result of a change - untrained mothers would only be able to see the effect of a change in the next few weeks, fully trained and enlightened women would be able to see the result up to the age of about ten years.

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Why does genes need to be modified to engineer your children? In a world with magical child birth, you can just say that the magic present while the child is in gestation is what molds the person instead of explaining it with genes. In that way, you can easily say that magic coming from different sources can be used to cast a spell to enhance the pregnancy and making more powerful children. Maybe if a second women shares her aether energy with the mother is enough to alter the child.

What ever side effect you choose could be magical in the world's context. Maybe having been birthed with more than 1 person's aether magic can make children that are insane because they have multiple personalities that don't mix. Or incompatible aethers can make a child unable to do magic entirely because they cancel out.

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During the pregnancy spell, the mother can manipulate the genes of their offspring by channeling the energy of the aether through people (or maybe even animals?).

This channeling will slowly alter the DNA of the offspring with the genes of the subject being channeled through. This channeling can only be done in close proximity and with deliberate effort.

This allows the mother to create amalgams of genes from people she identifies as having valuable genes. This of course can go wrong by combining genes in bad ways. And it can also go well by careful selection to get just the right set of genes.

It also allows the possibility of making genetic clones. Channeling through a single individual for the duration of the spell would cause all the genes to be the same as the target individual.

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  • $\begingroup$ Did you mean channeling the fathers energies to slowly alter DNA? $\endgroup$ – user32862 Jul 5 '17 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ Considering this is a magical creation, you don't even need a father. You don't have to have the biological component of genes to start with. The mother chooses whose genes to apply. It could be her own DNA and she'd make a clone of herself. Or it could be a significant other half the time and herself half the time, generating something like a natural child (even though the significant other could be female). It's like early genetic engineering, by taking specimens and breeding for desired traits. Except she's doing it all in one go, mixing the genes of one or more people to create the child. $\endgroup$ – MichaelHouse Jul 5 '17 at 21:36

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