Sunday, April 7, 2013

How To Be... a Genetic Engineer

One of the earliest loves of my younger son was Pokemon (his first love was Star Wars at all of one year of age, but that's a story for another time). I suppose this was back around when he was four or five, although the exact age when all of the Pokemon stuff started is a little hazy. However, I do remember that he was, at first, disappointed to find out that Pikachus
do not really exist, but that passed quickly into a determination to grow up and make one. With the way things are going, that may actually be a possibility by the time he is of an age to do so.

Genetic engineering, as we most commonly think of it, the direct manipulation of DNA by humans (not including selective breeding or mutagenesis), has only existed since the 70s, but we have come oh so far since then (check last year's post for some of the things we've already accomplished). The real issue is that, right now, we don't really know where we're going with it, and some people are scared of the field in its entirety. And, hey, who can blame anyone for being scared with all of the zombie fear? Genetically engineered diseases are at the root of many of these ideas.

However, with the sort of wide openness in the field of genetic engineering, it leaves a lot of room to do with it what you want. Right now, there is no "genetic engineering" degree. It's not like electrical engineering where you can go to school and learn the basics. There are no real basics for genetic engineering. Well, there are, but they are very basic. Like, you need to know a lot about biology (in general), cell biology (in specific), chemistry, biochemistry, and... well, and whatever it is you want to be working with. Plants? Animals? Microbes? You need to know about it.

Once you have the background knowledge you need, it's really just about finding someone willing to hire you on to work in a lab working on genetic engineering projects. Well, that, or taking that Dr. Frankenstein route and doing it yourself, which seems completely plausible assuming you had the resources to do it. Like I said, no one really knows, yet, where we can go with genetic engineering or what is and is not possible, so, maybe, my son will grow up and engineer his own Pikachu.


  1. One of those areas where things could go really wrong.

  2. I think if you go the independent route, you are first required to buy an island lair. So that could get expensive. But you need one. Who can be a mad scientist in a 1 bedroom apartment in the suburbs? Nobody. It's impossible. The tenants association is always complaining about the hybrid rattlesnake-wolf you've left out by the garages, your hordes of cloned minions are camping out on the couch and playing Xbox 360 'til all hours, running up your internet bill, and there's not enough parking for the dinosaurs.

    Really, a lair pays for itself in the first year. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a fully-licensed Island Lair Realtor who happens to have several good fixer-uppers available. But, since you mention it, can I show you some pics?

  3. LOL Briane, now I know where to buy a lair.

    I can see where genetic engineering could go wrong, but its still something that I think is an interesting field to pursue.


  4. I'm with Alex on this one. It can go VERY wrong. Some awesome sci-fi is based on the idea of it going wrong. Of course, that's fiction. Let's just hope life never imitates it.

  5. Wait, Pikachus don't exist? Thanks for completely ruining that for me. :(

  6. Genetics was the one science subject that really turned me on in high school. If I could have endured all of the other bio class prereqs, I would definitely have pursued it in college. Now, it seems the place to be - the cutting edge field which, love it or hate it, is going to change the world we live in over the next century plus. The scifi nightmare has come true and there might even be some good in it.

  7. Oh, will he make a Charmander too? He was always my favorite

  8. I read in National Geographic that they have decided to bring a frog back from extinction using cloning. I think that's pretty cool.

  9. Genetics is intriguing. Amazing what science can do.

  10. It is a scary field. The age of the Chimera will soon be upon us!

    If it's not, I'm not sure if I'd be disappointed or not. It's a confusing time.

  11. Have you read The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi yet? Freaky, freaky, freaky. I'm just a little afraid of generic engineering, especially if it gets to be a commercially viable business.

  12. It does scare me a bit. Don't like tampering with Mother Nature too much. But I can see how it'd be helpful medically.
    Hey did you know Marcy Hatch did a post on the same thing today!

  13. JKIR,F!: I think it would.

    Alex: I think there's less potential for it to go wrong in the broad sense of how people think about genetic engineering. However, in the area of biological weapons and diseases, things could go very wrong.

    Briane: I don't want an island. I want... like... a mountain! Yeah, a mountain citadel. Do you have one of those?

    Jo: I think there is huge potential... for good and ill.

    S.L.: We need the sci-fi warnings of the bad stuff that could happen to keep it from happening.

    ABftS: We're having trouble adapting them to the cold.

    TAS: I think genetics is going to take a back seat to nanotech and quantum tech. However, nanotech may be used to do things with genetics.

    Cassie: I'm sure he will.

    Michael: You know they've been working on a mammoth for over a decade, right?

    Rebecca: It is amazing!

    Rusty: It is. I'm more hoping for warp field technology to mature along with quantum communications.

    L.G.: It's on my list of books I need to read.

    Pk: I didn't see that. I will have to go find her post.

  14. I do wonder if people will ever start creating fantasy creatures, assuming technology reaches that point--and it looks like it will. Some pretty strange stuff could come out of that line.

  15. Hey: I thought I'd let you know that I'm ready to start reading "Shadow Spinner" again. I just downloaded part five, which was where I left off. So if you see sales spike, you know it's because of me and you can then send me kickbacks.

    Then again you sell like 4,000 copies a month or something. So it'll be hard to tell if there's a sales spike.

    Also: Mountain lairs are harder to come by. Can I interest you in a Fortress of Solitude? It's prior owner barely ever went there, and it comes complete with a miniature city. Only one key, though, and good luck making a copy.

  16. I hope your son engineers something cool, even if it is a beautiful piece of art. :)

  17. In other words, soon enough mad scientists will be a real thing. I'd love to be a pioneer in that field.

  18. TGE: I will be surprised if they don't.

    Briane: Um... you already read part 5, assuming that review you left for it was in response to having read it. But you should read it again, anyway.

    I will certainly take a Fortress of Solitude! That would be AWESOME! Are the robots included?

    Julia: I'm sure he will, even though he no longer has his sights set on that kind of engineering.

    Jeanne: You know, I bet they are already out there.

  19. If we did engineer a Pikachu, would it eat something we have available? Would it eat like bunny food and now our bunnies would die off? Would we have to genetically engineer a food? And maybe would foxes like it too and stop eating bunnies so we' have too many bunnies now? This could just be such a problem...

  20. A bit like playing God, but God did give us the knowledge so maybe if used wisely for the good of all.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  21. Donna: Maybe you'd just need to charge them up? I don't know...

    Lee: Man has always played at being God.

  22. What an awesome post. You hooked me at "mutagenesis".

  23. This is a very cool profession, but it can get a bit scary. Some people are already working on creating Jurassic Park for real! I don't know if that's such a good idea. :)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog:

  24. Kristen: I don't know if it's a good idea, either, but I can't wait!