What to do with more genes: 
Human smugness is remarkable.  We naturally assume that what we think is right.  One common taunt thrown at religion is that there are hundreds of religions, and they can’t all be right.  So doubtless not one is right.  That taunt can be thrown right back at science.  There are more scientific papers published in a single year than there are religions.  An enormous number of them are soon proved wrong, so most must be wrong.  (I am forced to acknowledge that such honesty from science is quite commendable.  The argument was made by John Ioannidis  as described in Publish and Be Wrong, ECONOMIST vol. 389 no. 8601 October 11, 2008 page 109.)  This does not deter in the slightest those who say science is Truth.  Not, “is a search for a kind of truth,” nor “might be truth,” nor even “will be truth,” but “is Truth.” 

Similarly, we assume that our society is the best that is or ever was, and when a better one is produced it will be our society that will produce it.  Probably the chances of that are about as good as guessing the true religion or the true scientific paper. 

But what we really strut is our bodies.  We recon this time Nature or God or evolution or extraterrestrial aliens finally got it right.  We are capable of everything we have any business being capable of, and if there is a possible improvement, we are evolving in that direction.  I trust everyone is content with the notion that having our brains get smaller over thousands of years as well as having smaller brains than our Neanderthal cousins ((Ann Gibbons, Brainy Babies and Risky Births for Neandertals (sic) SCINCE vol. 312 (sic It’s actually 321, but it says 312 on the relevant page.  Didn’t I just say don’t trust a journal?) no. 5895 September 12, 2008 page 1429))

We recon we have the Right Genes.  But thereby hangs a tale.  I mean an issue.  I have suggested (and on the strength of that suggestion and a few others, have produced a truly amazing amount of proof from the real world) that we are not evolving because we cannot support any more genes and still survive against the mutation pressure.  That implies that we would lay on more genes if we could.  We would evolve further.  And so would every other living animal, and probably plant. 

One thing that the theory of evolution has not been called to account for is the question: All right, if evolution works so well, why have we not evolved further?  Why don’t we have the ability of a cow to digest grass or eat wood like a termite?  The genes exist, and they would certainly be handy.  Why not sonar like a bat or vision like an eagle or the processing power of a super computer?  It is sort of fun to imagine what one could do with unlimited genetic resource.  Imagine a zebra that could change its skin like an octopus.  When pursued, it could have its stripes going one way while the zebra went the other.  Thinking about it is kind of like looking at the covers of super hero comic books.

There is a kind of fish I saw I think at the San Diego aquarium.  The fish were transparent.  In the right light just about all you could see was the eyes (which of course have to be able to stop light in order to function) and the contents of the gastro-intestinal track.  How about that?  You could disrobe, lie down and disguise yourself as a pile of dung.  Pretty good for escaping the notice of predators and for lying in wait for prey. 

Or you could build up an electrical charge like an electric eel.  It might be a trifle heavy, but it could save you a lot of fighting.  Then you could contrive to control the voltage.  Get it fluctuating and you have a radio with which to communicate with your kind and direct the beam so you could cook birds in mid air or fry the brains of any animal that looked threatening or tasty.  Or you could introduce phased array technique and use it as imaging radar.  Infra-red and ultra-violet vision would come as a matter of course.  There are all sorts of health benefits you could expect.  You ought to be able to grow an entire brand new body and transfer your memories to it, so you could renew like the phoenix.  It’s purely and simply a matter of having the right genes.  I think they once took a little booger, a platyhelminth I think it was, and trained it to run a T shaped maze.  Then they cut it up and fed it to another worm that thus acquired the knowledge of how to run the maze.  So it’s not impossible, it’s just an extension of what is already done by genes. 

I am not sure that having wings would really be a good idea; birds get into a lot of trouble with them.  But who’s to say you have them all the time?  The right DNA code and you could grow them for a nice flying holiday when you felt adventurous and then resorb them when you were done the way a python does with its GI tract.

And if you could fly like a bird you could swim like a porpoise.  It might take a bit of retooling for high efficiency, but you could drown proof yourself with a simple swim bladder and throw in the code to build enough brown fat to keep you warm.  You could use that brown fat, which you could also vary voluntarily, to burn off excess calories if you thought you were getting fat.

There are fish that can survive being frozen solid.  It’s just a matter of tweaking their proteins so that ice doesn’t crystallize in them.  You could do that.  You could build enormous fronds that you could unroll on a sunny hill side and snack on sunlight with your photosynthesis.

I don’t know about breathing water.  I can’t think of a land animal that returned to the water and then evolved to breathe the stuff.  But certainly fish have gills, and they can be quite active.  Watch a salmon leaping over falls, and I think you will conclude that there is plenty of oxygen to be extracted from water for the most strenuous activity. 

It should not require laying on much new DNA to accomplish all of those things.  Most of our genes we share with eggplants, so by far the biggest genetic task is being alive at all.  We would not be staggering around under hundreds of pounds of extra DNA.  We would build a special organ that weighed less than an ounce that was the library for our super powers and we could access it and send the right code only to those tissues that needed it.  But it would still have to be maintained against mutation pressure at the cost of eliminating potential offspring from the population. 

Time travel?  Nope, sorry.  Fly like superman?  Not.  Catch people in mid air with our hands at high speed?  Only if they were genetically tweaked so as not to come apart under the stress.  Sure there would be limitations.  But the real limitation is that you can only carry so many working genes.  And most of those are already committed just to keep your metabolism running. 

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