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Could genetic engineering be used to modify humans to include traits of wings & gills?

Posted on 2010-09-17
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Is there any reason that a super-race could not be manufactured to be efficient in all of air, land & water.  Why does evolution typically focus on a single environment?
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Question by:jasfout
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by:Callandor
ID: 33704461
Because there are conflicting requirements to excel in each arena.  To do well in the air, light weight is an advantage, which increases the power-to-weight ratio which means higher performance and longer endurance.  The lighter weight is at odds with the need for strength and protection on land and sea, unless one can develop very light yet strong materials.  What enables you to maneuver very well in the sea is a disadvantage on land.  The senses for underwater life are not optimal for air or land life.

In practice, look at nature and see if you can spot any creature that dominates in more than one environment.  You won't find one.
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by:sdstuber
ID: 33704589
as noted above, any creature that had multiple attributes would be self-competing.

if we had gills and went underwater our lungs would be damaged.

if we had wings we wouldn't have the musculature or skeletal system to fly.
if we did then we would be more fragile on the ground  let alone withstanding the pressures of going very deep underwater.

flippers for efficient water travel are inefficient on land (ever seen a duck walk?)
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by:sdstuber
ID: 33704604
but to answer the first part of your question, it is theoretically possible a human could be developed to have gills or some other feature but it's unlikely the person would be anything you could call super-human. Only "other-human" and likely less viable.
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by:aburr
ID: 33704946
"In practice, look at nature and see if you can spot any creature that dominates in more than one environment.  You won't find one."
Depending on your definition of dominate, you can try sea lions and sea turtles. Also penguins
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by:aleghart
ID: 33705425
Penguins are food for predators on land and in the sea.  Perhaps they are the dominant food source in their area?  :)
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by:ozo
ozo earned 50 total points
ID: 33705614
dragonfly nymphs are good underwater predators, and dragonfly adults are good flyers.

cormorants are good at diving for fish, but they don't catch fish as well as sharks and they don't fly as well as frigatebirds

humans excel at long distance running, due to an efficient bipedal gait and ability do dissipate heat through evaporation,
but humans have come to dominate so many environments because of a brain that allows the versatility or social and technological adaptation
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by:rwj04
rwj04 earned 100 total points
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Hi Jasfout,

important to consider that evolution is not really "survival of the fittest"  ...  but what it does is  actually "increase an individual's reproductive success" based on their fitness to survive to reproductive age

biological structures are "expensive" to build and to maintain.   this is why animals specialize in one environment.  you can't merely just "slap things on" because they might be good to have in multiple arenas -- everything has a cost


about wings:

wings, for instance,  take a lot of energy to maintain.  blood, bones, muscle, feathers.    and now you've lost your arms.   you now have limited your ability to survive on the ground.   or do you keep your arms and add wings, too?  Now that's even more expensive.  

The increased energy burden will drastically increase the amount of time you need to spend daily in survival mode.   Most of your day will be just eating food (energy) and sleeping (regenerating).    Thus significantly decreasing your time available to engage in mating.   And you will constantly be at risk of damaging these additional structures, putting your health at risk, further reducing your ability to reproduce effectively

when you have too many specializations, you become less proficient at any one of them.  

so say you can survive on land, in water, in air.     you will not be able to effectively compete with the species that solely focus on their land environment.   same goes when pitted against those in air or water.   your ability to survive and reproduce in areas with finite resources will be compromised, and so will your ability to reproduce.    

(ANALOGY: it's like when someone focuses all their time and effort to become an expert at one specific sport, and that's all they focus on.   Other people who divide their time among several forms of recreation, will be deficient compared to this individual.   broadly speaking at a population level)

Evolutionary forces will then act to favor those individuals who are less skilled in two of the environments, but more skilled in one.    eventually resulting in speciation that focuses in one environ
ment, but loses the ability to survive in the other environments.


about lungs and gills:

the "Common Ancestor" between fish and amphibians had both lungs and gills.  one example of this transitional form is the well-known Tiktaalik roseae  and it had the ability to breathe both air and water.     It lived in shallow streams and could pull itself out of the water on its stubby fins to hunt prey.  eventually a simliar species to this creature had offspring that became full amphibians (lungs only).   other species remained as fish.  

the "transitional forms"  such as Tikallik were not able to survive as a species.   Tikallik was clumsy in deep water and clumsy on land.   the energy burden and diffusion of skills was too much to sustain over the long term (geologic eras).   the surviving descendants were modified by evolutionary forces to become proficient in one environment or the other.


about genetic modification to create super-humans

we're not there yet.   there are too many "unintended consequences" of drastic changes that we could make.  including sterility and deformities.    it would take hundreds of thousands of years to evolve beneficial traits via the incremental changes that evolution requires.    

maybe one day we can get there (super humans), but i dont' think it will be any time soon.   current research is focused on understanding and fixing diseases that have genetic components.    curing cancer or autism or addiction or heart disease would be "super-human" in my opinion.






 
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by:rwj04
ID: 33706125
>> Penguins are food for predators on land and in the sea.  Perhaps they are the dominant food source in their area?  

penguins live on land, because they have no competition.   it's Antarctica, you know!  :-) ..  they are preyed upon by leopard seals and orca whales, but not to great extent because they live on land.     they are too quick, and not readily available to be a normal food source.   whales and seals get the bulk of their nutrition from fish.



>> In practice, look at nature and see if you can spot any creature that  dominates in more than one environment.  You won't find one

there are some, but like penguins, they are usually a niche species.   an exception rather than the rule.

and the real rule is:  never declare any absolutes about biology.   you will always find at least one example to the contrary.  sometimes bizarre oddities that "should never happen."


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by:rwj04
ID: 33706174
ugh, the interwebs are getting tricky.   I need to be more careful with my links :-P

here's a better link for Tiktaalik roseae:  http://tiktaalik.uchicago.edu/





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by:rwj04
ID: 33713777
wait, i'm confused.

you refused to remove P&R from the "Is the Teabag Party racist" even though it was focused on a single US political party and whether their political platform was racist.   Clearly belonging in politics IMO.  

Your rationale was that you preferred to maintain a laissez faire approach rather than heavy-handed enforcement of what does and doesnt qualify as P&R.

Now in this case, you may have personal opinion that evolution "is a science question" (and I applaud you for that), but that sure hasnt' stopped religious zealots from trying to influence the science curriculum in public schools.    

Evolution has been a central religious issue since Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, some 160 years ago.   Probably the most important issue for fundamentalists second only to abortion.





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by:jasfout
ID: 33713796
WaterStreet:
The answer that I am looking is not merely a scientific one.   I am looking for religious & ethical reasonings also.


I will respond to individual comments soon.
My reasons for asking this question are:
How would humankind survive if tomorrow the earth were to completely flood again as it supposedly did in the days of Noah?
Dinosaurs supposedly died off long before Adam was created. Why didnt evolution save at least some of them?

and mainly...
How can we as humans prepare for the next major earth catastrophe?
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by:jasfout
ID: 33713811
perhaps we all just need to pray? and not just prey?
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by:sdstuber
sdstuber earned 50 total points
ID: 33713918
from a scientific point if the earth were to flood, many people would die,  we wouldn't survive it because of a change in our genetics.
We don't adapt to the environment anymore.  The survivors would build floating cities and adapt the environment to suit our needs.  

Depending on the degree of flooding and environmental impacts we might not be able to build a new home fast enough.


How do we prepare for the next catastrophe?  We do that all that time.  But we're guessing.  We don't know what the next catastrophe will be.
And, prepare doesn't mean prevent.  We try, we get better every year, but any sufficiently big disaster can overwhelm any prep done thus far.
A few examples:

Earthquakes,  we build better and better buildings to withstand earthquakes.  However, the technology isn't perfect, and certainly, as seen in Haiti, not universal.

Fires - we have fire resistant/retardant designs and materials  - again, not perfect, but better now than 100 or 50 years ago.  We also have forestry management to help reduce the impact
of wildfires.  

Floods - we fight these on multiple fronts, we have building codes for drainage, foundation strengths and heights, and limits on where we can build.  Furthermore, we dam, release and redirect waterways.

Diseases - Many diseases that used to be fatal are easily prevented with modern vaccinations,  simple hygiene practices eliminate many more, and we have protocols for quarantine and treatment of those we can't eradicate.  Again, not perfect, but much, much better than the epidemics of centuries past.  This is an interesting one, because some of our own efforts are helping to build the next round of super-infections.
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by:sdstuber
ID: 33713922
From a religious standpoint, at least those religions based on the Old Testament, you don't have to worry about another great flood.

God has already promised not to send another flood.  The rainbow is God's sign of the covenant with Noah.

Genesis 9:8-17
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by:carsRST
ID: 33715814
>>The answer that I am looking is not merely a scientific one.   I am looking for religious & ethical reasonings also.
No where in the question does it state this.

>>Is there any reason that a super-race could not be manufactured...
This screams science.


Waterstreet was correct in removing this from the P&R zone.  

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by:carsRST
ID: 33715843
>>How would humankind survive if tomorrow the earth were to completely flood again as it supposedly did in the days of Noah?
Flood pants.
Also read Genesis 9:11, 13

>>How can we as humans prepare for the next major earth catastrophe?
Buy gold
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by:Jason210
Jason210 earned 50 total points
ID: 33717225
My first reaction was that it was a science question, and it is indeed presented as a science question, as carsRST points out. But I didn't "Request Attention" because I saw that there was a non-scientific aspect to it as well.
Ever heard of Frankenstein? It immediately came to mind when I read this thread.
The thing is, science doesn't know everything about genetic engineering, or evolution for that matter. We don't know what the implications of interfering with gentics will be. All I can say is that evolution has created us over millions and millions of years of trial and error, which means billions and billions of failures, and we stand here now on the battleground of the dead because of this.
Perhaps art comes into this question too. I think it requires a talented artist - as well as a geneticist - to create the beings of which you speak. Because an artists takes into account form and nature. The being would have to be designed pretty much like the Japanses design motorbikes. A fusion of art and science, And if they managed to get it right, I'm still skeptical. I think it would still need a streamlining by being subjected to a few thousand years of evolution...
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by:rwj04
ID: 33717275
thanks, WS  :)

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aleghart earned 250 total points
ID: 33718359
I don't think we're as smart as we think we are.  Genetic "tweaks" to give us gills will never be able to recreate the trial-and-error process (and random successful mutations) of evolution.  If you refute that evolution is valid (only God can create man), then you be investigating genetic tweaks are viable, and acceptable to your deity.

Tweaking for one or two or a handful of attributes leads to more failures than successes.  You don't see the failures because they're dead and buried.  So, how many dead clones will be buried before we have a generation of water breathers?  Millions?  Billions?  From a religious standpoint, wouldn't these "abominations" be the type of heresy that a vengeful god would be trying to destroy in a flood?

I think of a poor pug I saw at a friend's house.  Overbred for small heads and big eyes, the discarded ones are a sad site.  Eyeballs bulging out of their sockets, unable to be covered by their own eyelids.  Excessive drying and irritation by contaminants...ulcers on the eyes.  Mouth is so small that the tongue hangs out constantly.

With natural selection, these would never have happened.  The offspring several generations ago would not have survived.  Blind and unable to feed themselves, they would never have found a mate to reproduce.

But, we keep "tweaking" to make ourselves happy.

Using gills doesn't stop there.

Warm blood -- You need to adapt our heat retention abilities.  What good is it to breathe water when you'd die from exposure in a few days?  In cold water, a few minutes.

Immune system -- Now we're introducing more organisms and chemicals directly to our bodies.  Via the gills.  Via skin contact.  Ingestion.

Protection -- In the water, we are weak.  So, we have millions of people jumping to water to survive the flood....and we are devoured by predators or dashed upon the rocks.  Thin skin is a boon for shedding heat on land.  In the water, it offers no protection.

Feeding -- What do we consume?  Krill?  Stomachs aren't big enough, and we have no filter mechanism.  Small fish?  We're too slow and too blind.  Plus, we can't handle the raw meat.  Water? Salt content will kill us.  Some may adapt...perhaps a few hundred out of billions.  But, then we're back to "natural" selection.

And for those who do adapt to the cold and the salt and the raw food...how many will then commit suicide because they are the last humans on the earth?  What reason would there be to survive?  Why would you want to impregnate somebody (decreasing her chances for survival), then bring an offspring into the world to be devoured in its infancy?

Physical body features are a very small part of the equation for a surviving species.  Physiology can't be ignored.  Sociology and mental stability.

Just ask the NASA consultants who are working with the mine site in Chile.  Survival skills are not just use of your physical body.  You need someplace to call "home".  You need a social order, or acceptance that you are alone temporarily until you can return to the group.  You need order, a schedule, a list of priorities.  You can't flail about by yourself.
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by:WaterStreet
ID: 33718394
aleghart,

A really A+++ posting in my opinion.

WaterStreet
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by:jasfout
ID: 33718881
What the heck? Did I push the wrong button to accept multiple solutions? Something changed?
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by:rwj04
ID: 33719087
an interesting post, but the examples give, in and of themselves, do not preclude microevolution from taking place that could conceivably modfy the human species and its ability to survive in different environments.

i'll address each in turn:

warm blood -- many mammals live in the water or a combination of in water and on land.   nothing to stop an evolved human from living in or around water.   just a bit more blubber.    

skin -- so make it thicker and tougher.   youre talking about evolving *gills* for goodness sakes... making the skin a bit leathery is nuttin' but a thang.

immune system-- yes, it is a remarkable thing.    our immune system is often "bored" (look up anaphylactic reactions and allergies in general).  It wouldn't mind having a few more real pathogens to go after.   Immune system is probably one of the easier things to genetically engineer (especially compared to adding gills or wings)

feeding -- again... what's the problem here?  any kind of protein and sugars can be converted to energy, wherever it comes from.     you're in the sea, right?  so eat some fish.



>> And for those who do adapt to the cold and the salt and the raw  food...how many will then commit suicide ....

HUH?



>> Why would  you want to impregnate somebody (decreasing her chances for survival),  then bring an offspring into the world to be devoured in its infancy?

um.... going by your logic, why don't sea turtles commit suicide?   when reduced to it's lowest level, all our biology is (all living things), is a drive to reproduce and propagate the genetic material.      as long as a behavior increases reproductive success, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the parent survives.  consider the male black widow, or the male preying mantis.   or the female lion who will allow new males that take over the pride to slaughter all the unweaned cubs.

the problem with evolving new structures, is that additional structures are "biologically expensive" to build and maintain, and spreading your adaptive skills far and wide to multiple environments  make you less able to compete for limited resources in any one environment.  as I explained above.


>> Just  ask the NASA consultants who are working with the mine site in Chile.  
and ask them what?  about orbital velocity in a polar coordinate system?  re-entry thermodynamics?     how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?



>> You need  someplace to call "home".  You need <yadda yadda>
yes of course people get homesick.  you don't need a rocket scientist to tell you this.
 
the OP is not talking about engineering a one-of-a-kind pathetically lonely creature, but a new species of humanoids, that have been genetically accelerated to be adaptable to environments we would consider hostile.




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by:rwj04
ID: 33719102
but i'm glad WS promoted aleghart's fanciful 'solution'.

gives it the seal of approval when time for awarding points.

:-D


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by:sdstuber
ID: 33719176
"new species of humanoids"

I think that's the key phrase, note the original question said "humans" and "super-race"

The idea that a basically human person as we know them today could be altered to usefully have these other traits is, essentially, impossible for the reasons stated above.

All of the peripheral changes needed to make the target change viable would make it very hard to call the resulting creature a new race of humans and possibly not even humanoid.

A frog is about as close as we've got to something vaguely humanoid and amphibian.
They still can't breathe water though and I'm being very generous with the term "humanoid" using it only that they have 4 jointed limbs in positions roughly corresponding to those of humans.
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by:carsRST
ID: 33719454
>>but i'm glad WS promoted aleghart's fanciful 'solution'.
>>gives it the seal of approval when time for awarding points.

This is not WS's question and I've not seen any solicitation for his approval.

However, aleghart, you do have my vote for the best answer.  Good job!
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by:jasfout
ID: 33719682
Flood pants.
was a close runner up though
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by:aleghart
ID: 33719702
>>> Just  ask the NASA consultants who are working with the mine site in Chile.  

>and ask them what?  about orbital velocity in a polar coordinate system?  re-entry thermodynamics?     how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?

Well, since those consultants specialize in behavioral, physical, and physiological requirements for survival of humans in stressful situations, and in environments that are outside of our normal living conditions....they're probably more qualified to answer those questions.

I don't think they sent down any rocket scientists or philosophers.  Psychologists, definitely.  :)
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by:WaterStreet
ID: 33719710
carsRST,

Right!  Nobody asked for my opinion of a great posting and it's not my thread.  I've complemented posting many times, but it's not frequent I find one I really like.  You and the other frequent participants should be doing it too.  It helps promote a less combative culture in these "opinion" zones.

I think we can be big enough to do that with each other

WS
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by:Jason210
ID: 33720316
An interesting bug, especially in the light of the recent problem regarding the closure of the mark of the beast question. It would be perhaps be a better way of closing questions in this TA, although it might lead to an endless discussion and endless objections....
Oh never mind.
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by:rwj04
ID: 33720536
>> Oh never mind.

QFMFT
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by:NovaDenizen
ID: 33726612
One of Kurt Vonnegut's ending themes in Galápagos ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gal%C3%A1pagos_%28novel%29 ) involves the idea that evolution does not always select for the most capable or complex organisms.
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by:sdstuber
ID: 33726784
sure,  there's a lot of luck involved.

the smartest fish that ever lived might have gotten eaten by a shark while an infant before it got a chance to breed a new species of super-fish.

"survival of the fittest" is a minomer,  it's more elimination of the least fit.  The adequate to excellent all get a shot at the next generation.
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by:Jason210
ID: 33726885
>survival of the fittest" is a minomer,  it's more elimination of the least fit.  The adequate to excellent all get a shot at the next generation.
It's rather like a filtering process. All the fine stuff is sifted away and what's left are us lumps.
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by:WaterStreet
ID: 33762894

In regard to praising other experts' postings (as I did above), I made a blog entry on the subject with my thoughts at http://www.experts-exchange.com/blogs/WaterStreet/B_3075-Praising-Other-Experts%27-Postings.html
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by:rwj04
ID: 33763259
Yes, I had a problem with your singling a substandard post (IMO) out for praise as being "a really A++++ posting",

Your previous strong presence here in an Administrative capacity unintentionally lent your subsequent praise the quality of being an "official" approval.  

I wasn't going to complain about it, though; i noted it at the time, and what's done is done.   However, since you opened a discussion on the point, i'll list my gripes on your blog page
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