Can genetic engineering produce new species?

Of course – IF they have a tireless editor, among other things.

Species share DNA but also have unique DNA which has arisen over hundreds of thousands of generations. Homo Erectus became Homo Sapiens sapiens over the span of ?? 3 million years hence one hundred to two hundred thousand generations. We separated from Pan Troglodytes (chimpanzee) 5 million years ago.

Each child isn’t an exact copy of half of each parent – starts out that way, but (just me talking, not hard data) two or three copying errors tend to crop up between starting as one fertilized egg and producing valid egg/sperm cells.

Do that at least a hundred thousand times. The ‘useful’ / ‘ neutral’ / ‘harmful’ rates aren’t well established, but it only takes a few well-placed useful’s to make a critical difference.

So many changes took place in that 3 million years between Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens sapiens that they wouldn’t be likely to breed together, any more than we would with a chimpanzee. Out of three billion codons, we differ from chimps by one to four percent, depending on how you phrase the question. One percent of three billion is 30 million, so take a population of 10 thousand, which is tiny, times 3 per generation times 250 thousand generations (5 million years’-worth) and see how many gene changes can take place in the aggregate.

My pocket calculator says “3 times 10K times 250K is 7.5 billion.” And that’s from a joint ancestor, so instead of 30 million apart from the chimp, we’re each 15 million apart from a common ancestor from 5 million years ago. The chimp breeds faster, so maybe us 10 million and the chimps 20 million?

Do “figures lie and liars figure?” Yes The 7.5 billion is just a total number of darts thrown at the board in 5 million years. Getting 10 to 15 million of those 7.5 billion darts to stick? Hardly beyond the limits of credibility.

AH! – THE QUESTION! Please forgive the background information.

Either start with a species that exists today, like a lab mouse, or just turn a computer loose. Moore’s Law (speed and capacity each appear to double roughly every 18 months) still seems to work.  Try 18 years from now, and if all goes as suspected we’ll have computers that are four thousand times faster and have four thousand times the memory. As the carnival barker says, “You ain’t see nothin’ yet!” And he’s probably right.

Today there is an artificial intelligence platform which, without ever having seen or heard of a Rubik’s cube, can figure out how to solve one that has been artfully “rearranged” in roughly one second.

Given that metric, a Rubik’s cube has 36 squares with at least three colors while the human genome has 3 billion “squares” with four colors. Doing the same thing as solving the cube in DNA would take vast amounts of computer power, far far beyond the speculative 4,000 multiple above. But let the computer run, not for one second, but a thousand of them running for a year (a year has about a half-million seconds) – that’s 4K times 500K times 1K or 2 times ten to the 12th. A lot, but (trust me) still not in the ballpark.

Creating a new DNA sequence is vastly vastly more complex that getting all the squares on each face of a Rubik’s cube to show the same color.

Vastly.

At the same time there is such an incredible store of working DNA on hand now that simply harnessing the computing power we look forward to having well within the lifetimes of people in mid-career today? It will be not just possible to sic artificial intelligence onto that problem, but eminently practical.

But, as things go, how long will it be before one of these new species is a superbug designed to wipe out everyone on a given continent in a few tens of days? Develop a guard / serum / immunity first, and then – – – –

It’s too late at night!

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