"Welcome to Japan, folks. The local time is . . . tomorrow."
- from 30 Minutes Over Tokyo, The Simpsons, Season 10

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Biology Fun

I started today off by telling myself that I was going to finish editing chapters 1 - 3 of Kitsune so I can send them to my friend this afternoon for a second critique, since I want a third opinion. And well, I spent a good hour looking up stem cells, cloning, in-vitro fertilization, etc. on the internet. (Actually, I only visited a few sites too.)

See, I took a human hormone class in college because I needed 3 more credits and didn't have the prerequisites to take human biology or cell biology. As it turned out, I was glad I did. Mainly because my teacher said something about stem cells and cloning and how if you used a person's stem cells to just grow them a new whatever they needed, you would never have to worry about the body rejecting it as being foreign (though of course he said it in a lot better words than those, but he has a PhD and I only have a BS so it's understandable).

Anyway, like most writers, this got my brain thinking.

At the time I had been working on the first draft of Kitsune, back when it was still called Butterfly Kiss. But there's a lot of stuff that's held over between the two, namely the world (as expected).

The idea that I got from my teacher was what if everyone if this far future galaxy of mine had their stem cells stored in a giant stem cell bank. "Oh, hey, you're going blind in your right eye? Here, let's fix that." "You lost your arm in battle, we'll grow you a new one." And since they could go back and get each person's stem cells, they wouldn't have to worry about cloning a new ear or something on a mouse's back (poor mouse). Nor, as I mentioned above, would they have to worry about their body rejecting it.

I thought, hey, that's perfect. Since I'm dealing with a human character who was born in the galaxy (so he would have his stem cells on file) who's tracking down his changeling, who's stem cells wouldn't be on file. I thought all my work was taken care of.

Silly me.

This whole easy fix has been bugging me lately, mainly because deep down I know the science is off, and as someone with a BS in biology, that should be a problem.

So I decided to spend my morning doing some research on the internet just to refamiliarize myself with the biology involved. And as I thought, the specific type of stem cells that my people store are the embryonic ones, which are also the only ones that can differentiate into *any* cell in the body (though I think there's some debate about whether or not this is true for ones you can get out of umbilical cords).

But the problem I was having was how do they get these stem cells to have on record?

Since the embryonic ones need to be taken when the embryo is only 4 - 5 days old, I couldn't very well have a bunch of women who think they're pregnant (and to have all the women in the galaxy know after just five days of having sex? it seemed a bit unrealistic to me) go to some doctor to say, "Hey, extract the stem cells from my baby." Not likely.

So of course the other option was, does everyone in the galaxy have a baby through in-vitro fertilization?

Or, and this is the new one for today, since everyone has their stem cells on file, do women even get pregnant anymore? Or is the the galaxy populated by a bunch of test-tube babies?

Which, if this were the case, it would put a whole new outlook on their "status" in the world. I already have it that humans consider themselves to be the dominant intelligent species in the galaxy and have sort of "enslaved" the alien species (whom they refer to as Servants). But now, since the humans don't really like dealing with the Servants, not much is known about them. Nor are all their stem cells on file. Which means more Servants are made when the Servants have sex with each other, or however else their species reproduces.

But the thing I find most interesting about this, is that in today's world, or at least maybe more so the today of the last couple decades when cloning and in-vitro fertilization were newer, people made this way had the potential of being looked down upon and not considered "real" humans because they weren't made "naturally". And then in the galaxy, all humans are created in-vitroly (and I don't even know if women get pregnant and have birth anymore). I even think it works where the people who aren't produced in-vitroly would be considered less than human. Almost like in Gattacca, where the main character is looked down upon for being a "love child" and produced the old fashioned way without his parents going to genetic counciling first.

Of course, there's still a bit of time before I need to have these details fully worked out, like when I finally finish book 1 (Kitsune) and start book 2, when this detail about my main character *not* having her stem cells on file becomes a big deal.

In the meantime, I'll probably spend a couple more days not doing what I should be doing because the inaccuracy of my biology is bothering me.

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