Friday, December 20, 2013

Science Has Almost Caught Up with Science Fiction

Beyond This Horizon, an early Heinlein novel, describes a technology for what I like to describe as libertarian eugenics, a way in which a couple can choose, among the children they could have, which one they do have. The central trick is a way of separately analyzing the genes of sperm and egg before combining them.

The obvious problem is how to analyze a cell without damaging it. Heinlein's ingenious solution takes advantage of the fact that egg and sperm each contain half of the full set of genes of the cell from which it is derived—and the process that produces an egg or sperm also produces other bodies with the rest of genes. Analyse an ordinary cell, analyse the extra body, subtract, and you now know what genes are in egg or sperm.

According to a news story published yesterday, someone is finally attempting a version of Heinlein's idea, looking at the polar body that contains the genes that are not in the egg in order to deduce the genes that are. At least, that is what the story seems to be describing, although there are not enough to details to be certain.

Heinlein published the novel, and the idea, in 1942.


At 3:11 AM, December 20, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this must be banned immediately. i do not want to live in the world of Gattaca!!! as the protagonist says "I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science."

At 4:21 AM, December 20, 2013, Blogger Unknown said...

'this must be banned immediately' and ' i do not want to' on the same phrase is not very libertarian.

At 8:25 AM, December 20, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

More interesting, I think, are incidences where science has far surpassed science fiction.

At 10:59 AM, December 21, 2013, Blogger wtanksley said...

Power, I know what you mean, but there is something compelling about Heinlein's general ability to write science fiction that doesn't get ridiculously dated. Asimov did far worse (even though both were almost equally wrong about the impact of computer miniaturization).

At 3:34 PM, January 07, 2014, Anonymous JonO said...

It might be worth mentioning that science fiction authors are not in the business of telling the future. Talking about their success or failure at imitating pseudo-gypsies staring at a Chrystal ball is like handicapping horses by the color of their eyes.

At 2:48 AM, January 09, 2014, Anonymous Matthew said...

David, your article warranted a shoutout


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