Genetic Modification Technology / Science in Milky Way | World Anvil

Genetic Modification

Genetic modification (or genetic engineering) is the process of altering the underlying genetic code of a biological organism. In the distant past, genetic modification referred to a process called selective breeding, where desirable traits would slowly be cultivated over generations of a species. Modern genetic engineering technology instead allows for the rapid transformation of an organic's genetic code and physical characteristics. Although more advanced genetic modification techniques are controversial, the field as a whole is well-respected as a pillar of biological science.

The precursors of modern genetic modification were developed by most species shortly after venturing beyond their home systems. The rapid sequencing of an individual's genome allowed for hyper-targeted medical care, significantly improving life expectancies. The exception to this was the Gorthikan Alliance, which had already developed advanced genetic modification technology before it had developed the hyper drive. Outside of Gorthikan space, genetic modification technology began being developed in the early 2230s CE. The specifics of each species' attempts at genetic modification were highly varied and often crude, but always lead to higher quality of life for those with the means to access such technology.

Modern genetic engineering is a bespoke process that must be tailored to an individual, in order to avoid serious side-effects. The standard method of genetic modification is through a device that quickly edits an individual's DNA, as well as administering growth hormones and conducting surgery. This process can take as little as ten minutes for a standard health checkup, to well over a day for military augmentations. In general, the average individual can only support so much deviation from their species' genome before genetic modification becomes exponentially difficult, effectively limiting the number of augmentions they can receive. Better technology has allowed for more genetic augmentations, but some individuals can accept far more than usual.

A popular form of genetic engineering is glandular acclimation. This process allows for a species to be better adapted to an environment far removed from their evolutionary homeworld, such as modifying a Tzynn to have warm blood to survive on an arctic world, or lower water requirements to allow a Blorg to survive on a desert world. In some cases, this can extend to modifying the respiration system of a species, such as gills to allow for the breathing of water.

Some societies, like the Gorthikan Alliance and the United Nations of Earth, have gone far beyond traditional genetic modification and have developed significantly in the field. The Gorthikans are considered the galactic leader in the field, and are unique in their ability to develop 'genetic cocktails': generic, high-risk augmentions that can be applied via a simple intravenous injection. While powerful, these augmentions are known to have major side effects that can reduce the lifespan of those affected by decades. The most popular cocktails are for the forced growing of additional thinking organs, and a selection of minor tweaks that can significantly improve adaptation to warm or wet worlds. Joint research between the Gorthikan Alliance and the UNE has led to the development of retroviral agents that can cut the time required for genetic modification in half. Due to this (as well as heavy government support), the populations of both empires enjoy widespread availability to genetic augmentions of their choice.

Genetic modification has significant military applications. Improved strength, reflexes, eyesight, bone strengthening, healing capability, and intelligence are all extremely valuable to soldiers, but the sheer breadth of augmentations means the average soldier can only accept a limited number. However, the miniscule percentage of soldiers that far exceed the average individual's capability to receive augmentation are highly prized by militaries for this purpose. Nucleotide purification techniques allow for the isolation and refinement of desirable genetic traits in these individuals, allowing for severe augmentations. These soldiers, often called 'gene warriors', are among the most feared and respected soldiers in the galaxy.

Genetic modification also has the potential to 'uplift' a pre-sapient species. Although most non-sapient species would require augmentions far too advanced to make intelligent, some species at the cusp of sapience are prime candidates for the uplifting process. This is an extremely difficult process, even for societies with advanced genetic engineering, and also a politically controversial one. The uplifting process is often referred to as 'playing God' (English translation) by its opponents.

Although low-level genetic modification is considered a normal part of life in the galaxy, eliminating hereditary diseases and extending functional lifespans, advanced genetic modification often receives criticism. While the Gorthikan Alliance and the UNE are committed to the equitable sharing of genetic modification within their borders, they have been criticised for their unwillingness to export their technical expertise to other societies. In response, their defenders claim that it would require the buy-in of an entire society to achieve the same level of genetic advancement as them. In addition, egalitarians often criticise the usage of genetic modification to specifically craft leader classes, decrying it as eugenics. This practice is common in less egalitarian societies, such as the Tzynn Empire, where future leaders are carefully curated before birth in gene banks.

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