“Chimps have a repair mechanism for that. We should identify the gene – or genes – involved, and copy them into the human genome.”
“We tried that. It didn’t work. We found we needed a whole suite of related mechanisms to support it. Imported the whole lot. Poor little devils lived three and a half days on average – after being perfectly fine in the womb. Got the chimp’s repair mechanism okay, but lost critical bits of human metabolism. We’re still trying to work out exactly what’s going on. The relevant genes are still there, but the proteins they code aren’t being produced. There’s a misfolding going on, but it’s hellish difficult to untangle exactly what.”
Jemima went on, “Rhesus macaques have a different repair mechanism. We tried that too. Ran into exactly the same sort of problems.”
“I’m sure I can get the funding for computing power to look at that misfolding problem. And people with the expertise to help you use it.”
“That’d be great. We’ll crack this yet! If we can get both protection mechanisms in place, we’ll have some very robust individuals indeed. There’s a protection mechanism – not a repair mechanism at all – in red-bellied newts that I’d like to get, too, if we can. And one from Indian palm squirrels that might solve a different problem.”
“How did you get on?”
“Terrific. We’ve got five children growing well. In school now. They’re standing up very well to high levels of dioxins and quite intense irradiation, all the damage gets repaired within hours of exposure. They’ve no mature sperm or egg cells to look at yet though, so we don’t know for sure whether they’ll breed true. But they should.”
“Did you try putting human repair systems into other species?”
“Better than that. We’ve put almost every known human process into a line of macaques. They’re still recognizably macaques, but with lots of human attributes. They have to be delivered by caesarean, but that’s not a problem. We’re still working on chimps, nothing viable yet at all. We’ll get there, though. And we’ve got some other tricks up our sleeves, too.”
“So now you have twenty-nine sets of identical quadruplet blastocysts – any of which could be implanted in a chimp’s womb, a human womb, or a rhesus macaque’s womb? That would develop into normal chimps, normal humans, and normal rhesus macaques respectively?”
“No, not exactly normal. The humans will probably be most nearly normal. They’ll be carrying all those chimp and macaque genes, but a lot of them won’t be expressed in the humans, only in the others. How normal the others will be we don’t know. Until we try...”
“Not trying with squirrels or newts though?”
Jemima laughed. “No, we’re not using any genes from newts. That didn’t work out. Tried some from the spiny dogfish – Squalus acanthias – too, and that didn’t work out either. We’ve only got seventy-one genes from squirrels. The blastocysts aren’t even immunologically compatible with squirrels – never mind the poor mothers’ size!”
We had a few miscarriages, but not many. We’ve got over a hundred infants, all doing well. Most sets of quadruplets consist of a rhesus macaque, a chimp and two humans, but a few sets have other combinations.
The humans are developing fairly normally. The others are – um – interesting. Each set is identical in a genetic sense, and they’re all human in chromosome count of course. The only reason they’re phenotypically different is the environment in their mothers’ wombs. They’re all very capable individuals, as far as we can tell so far.
Fertility is still to be determined, but we’re pretty sure the humans will be. Some or all of the others quite likely will be too, in some or all combinations of phenotypes. If so, there will probably be some phenotypical drift over the generations, possibly resulting eventually in a continuous spectrum between the three original types.
We have very strong reasons to believe that recolonization of Earth will be possible, once we have a viable population of these people.
(Long-listed in the Brilliant flash fiction Springtime Writing Contest 2016.)