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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How to Design Your Own Virus

I need to know about gene therapy and genetic mutations. If I wanted to undo a mutation, how would I do that with gene therapy?


File this under "You never know what might cross your in-box" - I replied to R.T. in depth once I had a few more details to work with, but I wanted to break down the basic problems of gene therapy and viral biohacking here on the blog. Just in case you need to genetically reprogram a character this week.

What it is: Gene Therapy is a generic term for any medical treatment using modified genetic material to treat a genetic condition.

This is still an experimental treatment, but a major sci-fi trope.

Who invented it:
Still working on this one. Biohacking bacteriophages (the little monster to the right) was an early form of antibacterial warfare. When Bath and Bodyworks started making their little bottles of scented hand sanitizers the work was DX'd. Just kidding, a little bit. Antibacterial drugs and sanitizers put the viral vector attack out of work in the 1940's.

If you want a fictional inventor, let's try anyone who ever made a potion. Dr. Jekyll comes to mind, but I'm willing to bet you can find references to potions that change shape far earlier than that in folklore and mythology.

How it works: Up in the capsid (green part of diagram) is the nucleic acids (the NA in DNA and RNA). Consider that the brain of the virus. What you do to design your own virus, is suck out the brain with a needle (under electron microscope), and then insert a new brain - your unmutated DNA.

Then you let the virus multiply.

Then you infect your victim with this new virus and hope for the best.

If all goes well, the virus will continue to multiply in the body. The tails will grab healthy cells (mutated cells in this case), stab into the cell with the blue part, and shoot in the new nucleic acids. The DNA takes over the cell, forces the cell to replicate the virus, and then the cell lyses (explodes). All the new little viral bits go flying in the victims body and attack again, and again, and again, until either the virus wins over, or your immune system wins.

Usually the immune system wins before to much damage is done. If the virus wins, you have a dead body to deal with. For this case, where the virus is programmed, you can have an auto-shutoff that kills the virus after a certain period of time, or you could hope that since the virus is creating new cells, it will stop reproducing before it becomes cancerous.

Personally, I'd program a shutoff of some kind.

How to make it work for you: There's not much you CAN'T do with a good virus. Plagues, mutations, healing, world domination... this is a very versatile science. Because it is a field still in it's infancy in the Real World, you can play and manipulate the science to suit your needs.

Is this not enough? E-mail me: liana(dot)brooks1(at)gmail(dot)com - I love the hard questions, they make life fun. :o)

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