The Curmudgeon


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Creative Mutations

Genetic engineering has now advanced to the point where it is possible to reduce by half the number of chromosomes in any cell of the human anatomy, and induce cells so treated to fertilise one another in the manner of the normal sex cells. Cells may be fertilised by their own kind or by others; so, for example, a lung cell may now combine with another lung cell or with a skin, heart, bone, brain or liver cell - all with equal ease.

The first experiments with this process were not entirely successful. The crudity of the earliest instruments meant that there was no choice but to treat all the cells of a living body at a single session. The first time this was done, it resulted in the subject's anatomy becoming the scene of a cellular sex orgy of vast extent and ever-increasing destructive power. As lung mated with lung, liver with heart and bone with muscle in a vicious and potentially infinite cycle, so the body of this unfortunate pioneer grew and expanded with frightening rapidity, and within a very short time it was necessary to transfer him to a large warehouse while the scientific team attempted to work out some method of dealing with the problem.

This turned out to be rather more difficult than it had at first appeared, since the continual reproduction of the cells in his body meant that no wound in the experimenters' power to inflict, no matter how severe, was grievous enough to cause a general termination of cell renewal (in laymen's terms, death). The subject eventually had to be treated with a continuous fine spray of dermally-absorbed poison directed at the entire surface area of his body; though time-consuming, tedious, expensive and doubtless painful, this method succeeded after a couple of weeks, when the cells left living on the inside began to suffocate beneath the weight of the dead ones on the outside.

Thankfully, a number of more sophisticated techniques have since been introduced, and various different types and combinations of cells can now be treated in isolation, usually with interesting results. The first successful mating of modified cells outside the body, involving two lung cells, eventually produced the airbag, a creature made exclusively from lung tissue and consequently useful only for breathing. Unable to nourish itself independently of the remainder of the human anatomy, this first specimen quickly died, but it was still thought that airbags, along with other organisms bred from modified cells, might eventually make themselves useful in the field of medical transplantation. Unfortunately, this has not proved to be the case, as the airbag appears to have an instinctive aversion to the process of exhalation. Even when it has inflated itself to its fullest capacity, the airbag will continue to inhale, and is thus liable to explode a patient within minutes of being sewn in place.

Hybrid unions of different types of cell have proven a more immediately fruitful avenue. The mating of bone cells with neurones from the brain, for instance, produced the bonehead, a creature whose body, like the bones of a human specimen, begins life soft and flexible, but ends brittle and hard. The lifetime of an individual bonehead, from beginning to end, lasts for about a week; and the eventual shape of the creatures, which in their final ossified state bear some resemblance to a sort of exotic coral, appears to be determined by the electrochemical activity of the neuronic material in each bonehead's genetic structure. Each bonehead is completely unique and unpredictable in its eventual shape and structure; and the creatures are now available on the commercial market, either as corpses or in grow-your-own kits, under such brand names as "Dimensions of the Mind" or "The Shape of Thought".


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