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I am interested of a fictional future world where people can walk into a bar, order a drink with the flavors they want, and as that drink flows through their system, their DNA is modified.

An example of desired DNA modification is, let's say, the electric eel. More than four-fifths of the 2 meter long body of this fish consists of special battery-like cells that can collectively deliver a jolt of up to 600 volts. The interesting thing is that the eel can completely paralyze a nearby prey by releasing this stored energy as an intense volley of around 400 high-voltage pulses per second. (This information is from this National Geographic article.)

In this fictional world, science has advanced sufficiently far to know which DNA code needs to be in place to allow humans to use their arms as the battery (the arms would replace the four-fifths of the eels body) and how to add the needed extra functionality into the nerve system, etc.

So the knowledge of DNA code and gene-phenotype interactions needs to advance to that level.

What technological advances would need to be in place to make it possible for that civilization to produce drinks that can contain the DNA delivery vehicle?

Does it require nanobots in the drink? Or can a virus be encapsulated so that it survives the stomach acids? How could the immune system be bypassed?

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  • $\begingroup$ Check out Larry Niven's story The Fourth Profession kkbooks.net/books/2151.html . It doesn't talk about feasibility / mechanisms but it does discuss what might be done with the technology. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B May 1 '15 at 16:29
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So you want be electric, son?
I gotta tell ya, it'll be a whole evening of cocktails, in a very shady bar.

Here, put your finger here. It's gonna pinch just a bit. We need this blood drop to craft the brews, so they'll pass by your antibodies with ease.

  1. First, you'll be drinking the Beepiss Cocktail. BPS stands for body positioning system. There is no need to make this drink glow an eerie blue color, but you can bet that all of them will be glowy and blue, just for effect. These are tiny transmitting bots whose purpose is to spread right around the body and create a body plan. We'll give it an hour to take full effect. Feel free to mix it up with some flavored vodka (you look like you'd drink your vodka flavored, don't you? I knew it!), cause the next part's gonna hurt.

  2. The next one to go down is the Bubble Tea. This one's gonna be nasty. Those round jellies at the bottom will stick to your intestinal lining, and dig through it, spilling their powerful cargo into your body. Their contents are sesame to poppy seed sized little bots that will literally migrate through your body to BPS-specified locations and deliver their scaffolding and stem-cell cargo there. Over the next few days, these will build into the electric batteries and get those new neuron connections going, by BPS, all the way up to your brainstem. If it'll feel like you got ants running through your veins, it's because you will. Meanwhile, the now empty bubble tea jelly will use itself to patch all those tiny wholes in your intestinal lining. Don't worry too much, there's a fair bit of pain-killer in this brew.

  3. Finally, you gotta gulp down the Genejack Cocktail, this is the big'un, and we're saving it for late in the evening. We asked the lab-techs to make it rainbow colored, but the head honcho there's a no-nonsense kind of lass, so this last one looks disappointingly like a glass of water. Don't be fooled, though. This is the most serious stuff. It's gotta take into account your, what is it, 25 years of misdeeds, epigenetic instructions, vagaries of intra-uterine development, not to mention the 20Mb of genecode that needs to be altered, trillions of times. Then there's the whatchamacallit, uh, the protein cascades of interactions, and the ton of ways they can gunk up your other existing cascades and kill'ya right dead. Deader than a door-knob, that is. Don't worry, these guys and gals are wicked smart. The resulting genecode package is nothing like the original eel's, I hear, but a whole brave new synthetic code. Oh, and before I forget: this'll leave a hell of a hangover: It'll be like a week of the worst flu you ever had, before it's all sorted out. Get yourself plenty of chicken soup and napkins.

Whazzat? Oh, controlling it. Yeah. We'll give you a little brochure and AR training kit. If you're any good, you should be able to stop shocking yourself in a few weeks, and really get the hang of it in about 6 months. Ok, give our cryptocoin-biometrics a nice good smile. Yeah, the payment just came through. Good luck, kid, see you back here in the evening.

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  • $\begingroup$ That was a fun read =) Stay classy! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 1 '15 at 17:25
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At a glance, your idea is very similar to the tonics and plasmids from Bioshock.

First of all, Lego Genetics does not work the way you would like to do, which is to say that you take the electric gene from an electric eel and then apply it to a rabbit to get an electric rabbit. So, the technical hurdle that would arise from trying to make a drink to apply genetic changes such as that would simply be that there is no one gene for a certain attribute, such as electric body. As such, it is not possible to get genes like that from nature.

Supposing your society has invented a specific gene which allows for these features to be bolted on to your human's genes, you would then need a way for it to work. In real life, genes very roughly work as genotypes and phenotype (no full citation, lazy to search it up right now).

Genotypes are, VERY roughly speaking, what people refer to as genes, they are the instructions to your body cells to build themselves the way they are built, VERY roughly speaking.

Phenotype are, VERY roughly speaking, the manifestations of genotypes, they are what you can see on a person, whether they have blond hair or black hair, blue eyes or green eyes, fire breath or laser eye beams.

The objective of your drink right now would be to graft external genotypes onto your human's genes and to be able to change what they were like and get powers. Unfortunately, suppose the drink could magically graft the the external genotypes onto each and every one of your body cell's genes, it would not then instantly manifest the new features. Your body cells will need to have died and then be replaced via cell division, and the new cells would have the new genes in them. However, the new cell is generally not the same as the old cell, and this normally tend to lead to cancer, very roughly speaking.

So, the potion would then need to also completely disintegrate your human's body and regenerate all the cells, to refresh your body's phenotypes. Then they would have the powers labeled on the drink.

However, that may lead to moral concerns that the person who drunk the potion is not the same person as before, but that is a whole other topic.

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It will almost certainly require nanobots, but not for the reason you're thinking of.

The biggest challenge you will face is that this new mechanism is not how new body parts grow. They grow smoothly, from a small group of cells, where everything is close together.

Your DNA needs to know where it should be upregulated. All of the scaffolding the body uses to put new muscles and body parts is long gone. Something running along a bicep might have been 4 cells long when you were in the womb, but now it's hundreds of thousands of cells long. Without knowing where in the body to put new structures, you run the risk of your new eel organs acting cancerous, spreading in random undesirable locations. DNA/viruses don't have very much to be selective on. Just proteins. Nanobots could at least interact with some external field while they attach to the right locations.

As for the neural system, we learn to control things quickly, but perfecting control takes a while. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near one of your eel guys for about 7 years (roughly the timescale it takes to rewire neurons to do what you want). I'd probably start by wiring up next to a muscle. For a while, you'd be constantly shocking, until you learned to stop flexing that muscle except when you want to shock something. Then you would alternate strengthening that muscle and practicing shocking. Trying to control both independently would eventually teach the brain to differentiate the muscle neurons from the nearby shocking neurons.

Learning to do this without months of physical therapy, if not years, could go very poorly.

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Perhaps future us 2.1 will have purpose-written geneomes rather than all the haphazard sloppy junk. It will featue the ability to load "apps" to modify its behavior while still under the control of the main operating system.

(Don't try 2.0 — wait for the first service pack before ordering your kid.)

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