Science fiction: How quickly is a DNA change reversible?

Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com
Mon Jul 31 17:06:37 EST 2000


In light of the suggestions so far perhaps you could modify it a bit.  Since I
imagine that altering DNA is probably a bit more "sexy" than just putting
psychedelic drugs in the water supply (or air supply) maybe you could have the
evil rulers design an airborne virus (or biological micro-machine) that
continually modifies the expression of DNA to give the desired effect.  If you
really want to actually modify the DNA rather than just have a drug like effect,
the virus could insert a copy of its own DNA into the human genome which then
causes the expression of a protein that could do just about any horrible thing
you could dream up (Man!! I'm glad this is science fiction!!!).  The infected
cell would become a factory for both the brain altering protein as well as more
copies of the virus itself which would then infect other cells in an exponential
way.

Hmmm now you have to cure it ... well you can't just withdraw a virus, you'd
have to deliberately administer a cure.  But perhaps the evil rulers aren't very
good virus designers (whew!) and the expressed protein didn't have the desired
effect the first time around so the virus just lives harmlessly in the body.
Back to the drawing board.  They realize their error and design a fix.  This
time they release a complimentary airborne chemical into the air which when
breathed in, filters into the bloodstreamand interacts with the expressed
protein to brainwash all the people in the society.  Get rid of the second
chemical and everything goes back to normal.

Now that I look back at what I just wrote it seems kind of silly.  If the evil
rulers had any brains they would either have gotten it right the first time or
just done what the other respondents suggested and released some
neurotransmitter to begin with.  But we all know that evil rulers don't have
brains ... I've seen almost all of the James Bond films so I'm an expert.  ;-)

If I were an evil ruler (which I'm not, by the way) I'd live in a place where
the population had genetically evolved a mechanism to make them immune to the
mind altering effects of the incredibly strong magnetic sphere that existed
around my (or at least soon to be mine ... mwuhhhwwwhhaahhaa) planet.  I'd then
release a chemical into the atmosphere that blocked the expression of that
genetic mechanism and rule over my subservient denizens.

Well I fear I've gone a little over the top, but it's the end of the day.

So when can we expect those royalty checks to start rolling in?

hehe ... just kidding

The best thing about advice via the newsgroups is that you get what you pay for.

- Bill





To:   microbio at hgmp.mrc.ac.uk
cc:    (bcc: Bill A Nussbaumer/BALT/BDX)
Subject:  Re: Science fiction: How quickly is a DNA change reversible?


At 11:19 AM -0700 on 7/31/00, Richard Oeffner wrote about Re: Science
fiction: How quickly is a DNA change reverse:
>I agree that the drug would change the expression of the proteins made by
>DNA, and would therefore possibly have an effect on behavior....but as DNA
>is synthesized ad infinitum by cells, the change back to pre-drug effect
>would not take too long.
>
>Science Fiction is not realistic, but extrapolations of known science or
>technology. I think using a drug mist that contains a neurotransmitter to
>affect brain function sounds a little more realistic than DNA being
>affected by a drug.
>
>Good Luck with the book Thomas.
>
>R. Oeffner
>
>Thomas Ebinger wrote:
>
>>  Dear all,
>>  I am an editor for young adult fiction books. At the moment I am
>>  working on a science fiction series. As I am not very good at biology,
>>  I would like to ask you, whether the following scenario is realistic
>>  or not: A society lives in an isolated environment. The people there
>>  are governed by an evil group of people, that blows a certain drug
>>  into the air. By inhaling this drug the DNA of the inhabitants is
>>  being changed and transforms them into obedient citizens. Is it
>>  realistic that, if you withdraw this drug, the changes in the DNA
>>  recede and the citizens become thinking individuals again? And if this
>>  is the case, how quickly could this take place?
>>  Thank you very much for your help and excuse my ignorance.
>>  Best wishes
>>  Katharina Ebinger

Katharina;

One of the problems with your scenario is that we do not know what
the gene or genes are that determine behavior. In fact a good guess
is that behavior is determined not only by behavior but by
environment. So a drug to act on DNA is unlikely, from what we know,
to effect behavior to the extent that a population would become
obedient.

Either a compound that is a neurotransmitter or a blocker of a
receptor site in the brain would be a more likely scenario. You might
have to have this constantly being released as because of receptor
turn over the effect would not last as long as would be necessary to
control a population.

Cheers,

Martin
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