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Can scientists see whether genetic modification has been done?

 
 
Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2017 09:27 am
Hi! I'm new to these forums and I thought I'd ask a question pertaining to a novel I've been working on for the past 2 years.

My question deals primarily with human beings - can scientists see if a person's DNA has been genetically modified? If so, how? If not, why not?

In my story, the protagonist finds he is immune from most diseases and he can easily and quickly heal from bad cuts or broken bones in a matter of minutes or days (depending on what kind of injury we're talking about) after surviving a shootout that should have left him paralyzed. His leader doesn't think his survival is a fluke, so she has his DNA tested, suspecting genetic modification played a role in the protagonist's immunity.

After her scientists run tests for her, she surmises that the protagonist's DNA had to have been tampered with before even his conception.

Does this seem at all feasible, to be able to see through tests that someone's genetic code has been altered - or even to go so far as to learn in what stage of the person's life these alterations occurred? I guess slightly on this same vein of topic: Would a scientist be able to see if someone's telomeres were longer than usual, or that they had more mitochondria in their cells? How would someone see this?

Sorry for this long post! I do hope I get some good answers; I'm sure no one likes reading a book with scientifically inaccurate details.

Thanks for all your help!
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Krumple
 
  0  
Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2017 10:59 am
@Sinniona,
Sinniona wrote:

Hi! I'm new to these forums and I thought I'd ask a question pertaining to a novel I've been working on for the past 2 years.

My question deals primarily with human beings - can scientists see if a person's DNA has been genetically modified? If so, how? If not, why not?

In my story, the protagonist finds he is immune from most diseases and he can easily and quickly heal from bad cuts or broken bones in a matter of minutes or days (depending on what kind of injury we're talking about) after surviving a shootout that should have left him paralyzed. His leader doesn't think his survival is a fluke, so she has his DNA tested, suspecting genetic modification played a role in the protagonist's immunity.

After her scientists run tests for her, she surmises that the protagonist's DNA had to have been tampered with before even his conception.

Does this seem at all feasible, to be able to see through tests that someone's genetic code has been altered - or even to go so far as to learn in what stage of the person's life these alterations occurred? I guess slightly on this same vein of topic: Would a scientist be able to see if someone's telomeres were longer than usual, or that they had more mitochondria in their cells? How would someone see this?

Sorry for this long post! I do hope I get some good answers; I'm sure no one likes reading a book with scientifically inaccurate details.

Thanks for all your help!


Essentially you are getting at some kind of comparison to conclude there is something different with his DNA. The question really is what are the scientist comparing his DNA to?

You said you want it to be a discovery that he has had these genetic traits since birth so you can't use a past test and a new test to confirm a modification happened during his life.

There are two other possible ways.

One is to suggest there is a "normal" gene structure or sequence that all humans share but his is different than how it should look.

Or somehow they have his parents DNA to compare his with and determine his DNA shouldn't be remarkable since theirs is normal.

As far as what is modified it depends on what traits you want him to have. Healing rates would just fall in how white blood cells work.
dalehileman
 
  0  
Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2017 02:01 pm
@Krumple,
Krump you're to be congratulated for your response. I wonder though why you bother to copy the OP

No offense, just curious

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rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2017 03:07 pm
@Sinniona,
Sinniona wrote:
can scientists see if a person's DNA has been genetically modified?

Nobody's DNA has been modified so far, so this question can only be answered in theory, not in practice.

In theory, about the only way I can think of that a genetic condition could be identified as "artificial" would be to compare the DNA to the parents and see if there was a change which did not arise from either parent or was too extreme to have come from a mutation. That might not be an absolute test, but it could be a high probability indicator.

Other than that, there is no specific difference between a naturally occurring gene and an artificial one.

The only other situation I can think of would be if certain genetic sequences become patentable, in which case they could be identified. I think there are real world patent cases already pending in anticipation of CRISPR designed gene and DNA sequences.
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centrox
 
  0  
Reply Thu 16 Feb, 2017 04:53 pm
If this is science fiction, then it doesn't have to be factually correct, just sufficiently authentic-sounding to keep the reader turning pages. SF authors are always invoking 'future science' to provide plot possibilities. SF novels I read as a kid and young adult had things like rays or faster-than-light drives with German-sounding names. Later, Chinese or Russian. Get the plot and characterization right and the reader will forgive much. How many of your readership will be experts in the field? Having said that, there are authors whose scientific idea is fine, but whose characters suck big time. Arthur C Clarke and Gregory Benford, maybe? Both authors I happily read, by the way.
0 Replies
 
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 Feb, 2017 04:47 am
@Sinniona,
Don't get too bogged down in the science, what can be done now is not the same as what could be done in the future. They used to need a ton of DNA just to find out very basic things about someone like race, blood group, gender, now they can pretty much pin down an individual with a tiny amount. The reader will forgive you for making assumptions and leaps, that's what fiction is all about.
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