August 30, 2015

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Future Pharma – How will biotechnology and genome research revolutionize pharmaceuticals? the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2153. The link is provided below…

Future Pharma – How will biotechnology and genome research revolutionize pharmaceuticals? How can biotech be better integrated into fiction? This panel will help provide an understanding of the diversity of contemporary and theoretical pharmaceuticals and how biotechnological breakthroughs can help move a plot along. Heather Rose Jones (m), Peter Charron, Barry Gold

My first ever “published” science fiction story dealt with just this subject, back when I was a 9th grader in 1971. I remember my incredible success with this story because a girl in my Journalism class got really excited as I described my story, about a man-on-the-run from the Galactic Drug Corporation. As I read, the character commented that the company provided the purest form of any drug you could want.

She looked up at me and said, “Where are they?”

As I recall, I just gave her a blank a ninth grader I was about as “uncool” as you could possibly be: plaid, high-water slacks, bowl cut hair, hated blue jeans and pizza, read all the time...I had no idea what I was writing about, but I had somehow picked up on the prevailing culture enough to write the piece.

Since then, everyone I know has benefitted from biopharmacology: my wife takes human insulin produced by bacteria; my brother and father have stents in their hearts that had been coated with a substance that prevented the rejection of the foreign object; my brother-in-law who was born a hemophiliac, took freeze-dried Factor XIII in order to increase the clotting ability of his blood; I could go on, but there’s no reason to. The science fictional possibilities of pharmacology, biology, and biotech is undeniable.

I have a world where I’m exploring the possibilities right now. In my future, there are no aliens. There are also very few habitable planets (ever read the book, HABITABLE PLANETS FOR MAN? If you haven’t, here you go: This book not only inspired me, it lit a fire under me that hasn’t ever gone out. I LOVE alien worlds, aliens, and everything else about SF!)

In my future, Humans are modified to fit environments and Humanity has split into two factions – the Empire of Man and the Confluence of Humanity. The Empire refuses to admit that anyone who is less than 65% Original Human DNA is Human. The Confluence embraces the modification of the Human genome to whatever lengths it takes to serve the rest of Humanity.

Obviously there will be conflict, and my focal point is in the clouds of the super-Jovian, puffy-Jupiter, named River. I’ve had two stories published in this world, “The Baptism of Johnny Ferocious”, “The Prince of Blood and Spit”, plus the as-yet-unscheduled, “Into The Deaths”. I imagine I’ll collect them altogether someday.

But back to the point of this essay, we will continue to expand our use of “manufactured” biotech products and will continually be faced with the problem of limits. At what point do we draw back?

Case to point is the refusal by parents of technology that would allow a deaf child to hear. The argument is that “deafness is not a handicap or a disease”. Deaf Australia puts it this way: “...a [cochlear] implant ‘implies that deaf people are ill or incomplete individuals, are lonely and unhappy, cannot communicate effectively with others and are all desperately searching for a cure for their condition. [This] demeans deaf people, belittles their culture and language and makes no acknowledgment of the diversity of lives deaf people lead, or their many achievements.’”

If this is already an issue, what does the future hold?



moroshek said...

I think the tolerance for change will keep getting pushed further and further. The amount of people in the deaf community who would opt for an implant, in my estimation, vastly exceed those who wouldn't. So I think the % of holdouts will be tiny.

I like your choice of 65% - it's that 1 standard deviation on the normal curve.

However, knowing what I know about biology - I wouldn't be surprised if our DNA is 65% similar to yeast. I'd have to look it up haha. I find it hard to imagine that changes will be that drastic. I think we're going to be playing around with 1-2% DNA change - max.

GuyStewart said...

Yeah, I have to do some more reading as well. I know VERY little about comparative chromosomography -- if there is such a thing.

The fact that Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and 20,000 to 25,000 genes. Yeasty beasties vs. Humans:

TABLE A.1 Comparison of Yeast and Human Genomes
Yeast Human
Genome size 12 Mb 3200 Mb
Number of 16 chromosomes 22 pairs of autosomes
1 pair of sex
Number of genes 6000 20,000–30,000
Ploidy Haploid or diploid Diploid

Figure A.1 Yeast cells. Phase contrast micrograph of yeast
cells showing small and large buds characteristic of different
phases of the mitotic cell cycle.


Great question! I NEEDED this kind of information for my story -- but didn't really realize it until you MENTIONED it! Thanks!

GuyStewart said...

The table above didn't do very well in the translation. Go to the PDF. I only read the beginning up through the table, but it's FASCINATING!

GuyStewart said...

And here -- though I notice they conveniently omit the NUMBER of Yeast and Human genes...making it seem as if me and my beer are practically the same thing! Makes the aphorism "crying into my beer" take on a whole new meaning!

moroshek said...

"In genetic terms, the chimp is closest to the human even though mouse models work on the premise of genetic similarity. Only half of human genomic DNA aligns to mouse genomic DNA while in comparison chimpanzees match 96%."

Bottom line: I find it hard to believe we'll ever change more than a few percent!