Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


16.1.2  Genetic Surgery

"Genetic surgery" is a term used to describe the manipulation of DNA and RNA -- the executive molecules of terrestrial life -- for specific purposes. Many scientists believe that in the near future human biotechnology will be able to "delete undesirable genes, insert others, and mechanically or chemically transform others."92

The methods of genetic surgery will often require the deft insertion of new genes into the nuclei of malfunctioning cells. This is called a "gene transplant," a technique already proven by tests involving human subjects. In one early experiment conducted by Carl Merril, Mark Grier, and John Petriccione at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, specially prepared virus were used to carry DNA into cultured cells taken from people suffering from galactosemia (an enzyme-deficiency disease). After the viruses and the human cells were mixed together in solution and warmed to normal body temperature, the researchers found that the cells had absorbed a gene which had been placed in the virus that was capable of repairing the deficiency. The transplant complete, the cells began to manufacture the previously deficient enzyme in adequate quantities.

In 1970, Dr. Stanfield Rogers, a medical geneticist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, performed one of the first experiments on human subjects. A group of children had a rather rare genetic disease called Argininemia, a congenital disability to produce an important enzyme called arginase because of defects in the chromosomal DNA. Rogers selected a microorganism called Shope virus which, while harmless to humans, causes the cells it invades to produce an excess of arginase. A few months after the young children were injected with Shope virus, their bodies began producing the needed enzyme -- proof that the viral treatment was beginning to work. The foreign arginase-producing genes had been transplanted into some of the children’s cells.2365

Genetic surgery and transplantation biotechnology may give ETs the ability to regenerate lost limbs or damaged organs. Each cell contains all of the organism’s genetic information, but most of it is suppressed because of specialization as a nerve cell, liver cell, or brain cell. If the expression of these hidden parts of the gene package can be unblocked, new limbs and organs could be grown by stimulating the correct genome sequences at the right locations. Nerves might be regenerated, eyeballs repaired, arms and legs regrown from scratch.

Similar techniques could possible minor modifications in physical appearance -- such as skin or hair color change -- or major modifications in body form such as extra arms, fingers, or special organs. The degree of genetic individuality may be so great among extraterrestrial bioneering races that each organism might represent his own distinct and unique "species."


Last updated on 6 December 2008