Well, some will have got as far as finding that Panoptica was populated with female worker drones, like bee or ant colonies. I was just making it up, okay? There was no way to make it really happen. In any non-insect species.
Well, now there is. In chickens.
At first… but there is a huge problem here. If the genetic meddling causes no male chickens to hatch, who gets the next generation’s eggs going? It’s a disaster that makes Dr. Frankenstein’s story look like a mere ‘oops’. Better get used to duck eggs folks because they plan to wipe out chickens in one generation.
The same issue will arise in Panoptica before it’s complete and I have to thank real life once again for making my insane fiction at least credible. I had it written but as with brain chips, I was worried it was too far-fetched, yet once again it seems I had not fetched it nearly far enough.
Well. I have to complete a story for Underdog Anthology 17. Mine had stalled but this is new inspiration. It allows me to follow on from a story I had published in Alienskin Magazine (sadly gone forever) in 2004. Where our MC finds that her edits have spread unintentionally through subsequent experiments…
Anyhow. Here’s the original. It was also in ‘Fears of the Old and the New‘.
The Gene Genie
This one had to be cut down to fit with the word count required by Alienskin magazine at that time (2004). This is the uncut version. Published again in ‘Fears of the Old and the New’ in 2012, but no bugger ever read it so here it is again.
“The bulk of the DNA in the human genome is junk. Most of it doesn’t code for anything.” Professor Armitage succeeded in looking haughty even while relaxing in his leather armchair. He had the air of someone who could emanate haughtiness in his sleep.
Diane’s response was immediate. “Surely, Professor, at least some of that DNA codes for proteins? Some of it represents intact genes that are not lost, just switched off?”
I always enjoyed Professor Armitage’s tutorials whenever Diane was there. I didn’t have to do or say anything in most of them, I could just relax and watch the battle of wits between these two.
The Professor smiled. He was ready for this one. “That’s correct,” he said, his eyes twinkling at Diane over his heavy-framed glasses. “But those genes are archaic, no longer required by the human animal. They’ve been switched off and forgotten for a good reason.” He paused. We all turned to look at Diane.
“What reason?” she said.
“They’re junk.” The Professor’s grin was huge. The other four research students covered their grins with their hands, as I did. We didn’t want to be noticed, we just wanted to be the audience.
“How do you know?” Diane said, her determined face unflinching. “Surely the only way to tell would be to switch them on and see what happened?”
“My dear girl.” Professor Armitage injected his voice with his best patronising tone. “We don’t need to switch them on. We know the sequence, so we can deduce the proteins that would have been formed, and from there we can work out what those proteins probably did.”
Diane bristled at the Professor’s tone. She was getting into her stride, this was going to be a good performance.
“Probably,” she said. “What the proteins probably did. We can’t be sure, can we? The only way to find out for sure would be to reactivate those genes.”
“Well, there are a few problems with your proposal,” Professor Armitage said. “For one, we don’t know the extent of the mutations in those genes. Remember, they’ve been unused for a long time, possibly since before ‘Homo sapiens’ evolved as a species. Mutations in unused genes would have no effect on the animal so they wouldn’t be removed by selection.”
“True,” Diane said, “but there are ways to determine the degree of mutation. We could selectively reactivate genes that are intact, or nearly so.”
“I’m sorry, my dear, but there is one final nail to place in the coffin of your proposal.”
“Ethics.” The Professor’s face was serious. “What if we reactivated a gene in a volunteer, and caused a rampant cancer? The risk is just too great. No ethical committee would ever approve such a project.” He held up his hand to forestall Diane’s interruption. “And I couldn’t approve it either. I couldn’t in all conscience ask anyone to volunteer for such an experiment.” His bushy eyebrows lowered and he peered at Diane through the narrow slot between his eyebrows and the top of his glasses. “Could you?”
We all turned to Diane again. Her lips were pursed, her eyes downcast.
“No,” she said. “I couldn’t ask anyone to take the risk.”
We all released our breath. The battle was over, and Diane had lost this time. Still, I thought I saw a hint of defiance lingering in those deep brown eyes, a suggestion of resolution in the set of her jaw. Diane hadn’t finished with this argument, I was sure. She just needed time to consider the next assault.
“Well, everyone, that’s our time up for now,” Professor Armitage said, clapping his hands together. “I’m afraid I won’t be here next week, so I’ll see you all two weeks from today.”
We rose and filed out of the Professor’s office, saying our muted goodbyes. Professor Armitage waved briefly then turned to his desk, already absorbed in his studies before we had closed the door.
I ran to catch up with Diane, who was striding furiously along the corridor. Matching her pace with some difficulty, I tried to glean some insight into her next moves.
“So,” I said. “Are you going to leave it at that? I had the feeling, you know, that you’re not going to drop this one.”
“Too right,” she said. “He’s wrong this time, and I’m going to prove it to him.”
“How?” I struggled to keep my breathing in time with her racing pace. “You won’t get approval for any experiments. He’s dead set against the whole idea.” The door at the end of the corridor arrived sooner than I’d expected. I just managed to avoid colliding with it.
Diane opened the door and shot through. “You’ll see,” she said, as the door swung shut. I leaned against the wall, catching my breath. Diane was the best research student here, better than most of the staff in the Genetics Department. We didn’t call her the Gene Genie for nothing. If she couldn’t do it, it wasn’t possible.
It was over a week before I saw Diane again. I had been working late in the library and was just leaving, looking forward to a cool beer. As I opened the main door to the chill air, Diane entered like a whirlwind, nearly knocking me off my feet.
“Whoa,” I said. “You must be keen, coming in this late.”
Her face was excited, her eyes glowing with unconcealed pride. I felt an unease growing in my gut.
“It’s not that argument with old Armitage, surely? You can’t be working on that?”
“Working on it? Ha!” she said, flashing her teeth in an insane grin. “I’ve done it. Look at this.” She pulled off her scarf to reveal three rows of slits on each side of her neck.
I recoiled in horror. “What have you done to yourself? We’d better get you to a hospital.”
Diane laughed, throwing her head back. The slits in her neck pulsed redly in time to her laughter. “I’m fine. I just reactivated some of the old genes,” she said. “Armitage was right. I couldn’t ask anyone else to take the risk, so I took it myself. It worked.”
“What have you done?” My books fell from my grasp. “What genes?”
She turned her head, showing the openings on her neck. “Very old genes,” she said. “These are gills, from our fish ancestors. Tonight I’m going to give myself a tail.” She brushed past me, towards the laboratories. “Wait until the old goat sees what I can do,” she called over her shoulder.
I stood there for a long time, my mind still seeing the gills on Diane’s neck. I knew I would feel no surprise at our next tutorial, when our Gene Genie would stand and flick Professor Armitage’s glasses off with her new tail.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”
It should be a big sign in every laboratory.