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Name: Michael
Status: Other
Grade:  Other
Location: GA
Country: United States
Date: May 2007


Question:
If all the genes that were associated with our ability to jump, run, or see, were discovered, is it possible that a single strand of DNA from an animal or an insect can be inserted into a humans genetic code to enhance the senses I said earlier?



Replies:
We have already made transgenic animals (for ethics reasons we haven't worked on people) by inserting genes from one species into another. However, typically, these are single proteins with very simple functions. To change complex traits like 'speed' that involve many, many genes and are also influenced by environment, would be much more difficult. Even if we knew exactly how they all worked (and I want to emphasize how tall an order this is), it would still be a very difficult engineering/practical challenge to actually execute. Is it possible at some arbitrary future point? I would say yes, but by no means easy. Many things can be 'theoretically' possible, but practically impossible.

I am assuming that you want to neglect ethical issues, but ethics are critically important as well. There are still important ethical questions to resolve before we could even attempt engineering on humans, and those questions may never be satisfactorily resolved. So perhaps the technical questions may be solvable, the societal ones may not be.

A gene typically is only a tiny fraction of a full chromosome. By 'strand', if you mean a full chromosome, I would guess that much of the strand/chromosome, even if we could get it in to an organism intact, would be ignored or deleted by the host. The mechanisms for causing genes to be expressed (it's not enough to just put the DNA into an organism) are very complicated, and you could not just insert the right genes and expect things to work. You would need to engineer/invent new control mechanisms as well to get them to be put in place.

Think of integrating two large companies. Let's say Company A does distribution really well, and company B does marketing really well. Even though you have full access to both companies' people and practices, it's still enormously difficult to integrate the two and achieve the best of each. The same is true with genetic engineering -- even if you know how things work in organism A and organism B, you still have to figure out how to get A's stuff to work in B. And that is extraordinarily challenging by itself.

Hope this helps,

Burr


There are many genes that animals share in common and would probably be interchangeable. However, most phenotypes are the result of many genes working together and we haven't begun to discover all of them and their effects yet. Gene expression and action are turning out to be much more complex than we first realized.

KVH



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