1. CastlePilot19
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    CastlePilot19 New Member

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    Genetics and DNA

    Discussion in 'Research' started by CastlePilot19, Jul 12, 2016.

    Hi, so I'm writing a fantasy/sci fi story and I've been stuck on this piece of research/character development for a long time, so I was wondering if anyone could help me solve this or figure out a better idea.

    So basically in my novel there's humans and another humanoid species which we can refer to as elves for now and I want my human MC to have part elf DNA in her so she can have some of their characteristics but not be a hybrid. In my story, my MC's mother is a biologist and I want my MC to get her DNA from one of her mother's patients but also have genetics from her father so here comes the tricky part.

    (Method 1) I've looked up third party reproduction and my best bet was with Spindle Transfer where you take the nuclear DNA from an egg cell (human) and transfer that DNA into another egg cell (elf), and then be fertilised with human sperm. (I know very technical and sciency) Therefore my MC would be considered human but have the DNA of eleven. Sounds like I've figured it out but my predicament is that the mother's patient is a guy, so you can't exactly put the nucleus in another egg cell because guys don't have egg cells.

    However, my other idea (Method 2) was that since elves have accelerated healing from their blood, I could just have the mother ingest her patients' blood multiple times from when she was wounded and that could have mutated her egg cells and could be in her blood stream, when she conceived. Therefore, my MC has a mutated gene which allows her to have characteristics of an elf. But I kind of technically want the patient to be kind of a third party parent so with my second method would that be true?
    So my questions are; which method is better and more believable? Is there a way like my first method that I get the patient's DNA into my MC before birth? Or should I just go with my second method?

    Thank you if you have read through my long predicament and I would appreciate any feedback.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Method 1: If you take nuclear DNA from a human, transfer it into an elven egg, and then fertilize with human sperm, how is the offspring going to have elven DNA (except for mitochondria?).

    Method 2: The DNA from the blood is going to get digested and absorbed into the blood stream, and then would have to be taken up by cells that would be transformed by it. That seems unlikely. If it is just some kind of mutagen in the blood, why would the mutagen give the characteristics of elves? Do elves have the characteristics they have because of a mutagen?

    Can you just have a human and elf mate to produce a half-elf. That's sort of the standard approach.

    You could have the MC be a chimeric individual. That would be interesting. As a twist on your Method 1, I think it makes more sense to put elven DNA inside a human egg, the human egg then being capable of fertilization from a human sperm to produce the hybrid offspring.
     
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  3. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    Method one makes the most sense. Accelerated blood healing doesn't make much sense, and sounds like it could be a potential carcinogen in humans if it forced rapid cell development. Not to mention the body works very hard to keep the reproductive system and blood apart.
     
  4. CrusherBrooks
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    If you want to be scientific, you're going to have to go in the direction of method 1, since method 2 makes no sense scientifically. However your explanation is incorrect. The nuclear DNA is what gives creatures their fenotype, so in this case a human would grow (assuming humans and elves are compatible, of course). The DNA is the blueprint for the body so... Human DNA makes a human. The cell itself will carry some organelles and mitochondria have their own RNA which is similar to DNA, but that won't make your character elven... Unless you invent some other organelles that carry their own genetic material and give elves a strong distinction. Think about plant organelles (chloroplasts) that give them the ability to perform photosynthesis and make them green.
    I would suggest an alternative mechanism, looking also at Steerpike's answer: Look into embryotic development and chimaerae. You know how identical twins are created? One fertilized egg produces two people. In a chimaera, two fertilized eggs grow together into one individual. Have a freakish experiment where part of the embryo is replaced with the supplementary part of the elven embryo at some early stage --> elven "blood" adapts to its human environment and you get something like elven skin on an otherwise human individual. Different parts of the body have different DNA sets, the reproductive system will contain human DNA exclusively, but part of its body was grafted using elvish stem cell material in the whomb... or something. Replace a quarter of the cells from a blastocyst by elvish stem cells and voilá! A chimeric human/elf will grow rather than a hybrid. Replace cell clusters in a later stage of development to give your character an elvish foot, ear, or nipple. Or even brain!
    Using properties of "blood" doesn't resonate very well with medical science by the way.
     
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  5. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Marion sat tapping her foot without noticing; deep in thought. She had gotten an idea last night which might make it possible to solve her ... problem. Years ago she was told she'd never be able to have children after the accident. She avoided the subject with Bill. Never told him. But now, they'd been married for four years and he was starting to ask questions. At first, it had only been jokes. - I guess we're not having enough sex, he'd said one night.

    She picked up the syringe. twirling it around in her fingers, trying to come to a decision.

    Now ... now ... He asked in more serious tones - We should go get checked; find out what's wrong. Marion knew what was wrong. She knew he wanted children before they were ever married, and she had been afraid he would break it off if she told him. Would he still leave her? Probably not now, but he would still be disappointed to find out and might even resent her if he knew the whole truth.

    The camera and monitor showed her the correct way to do the procedure. The needle went in easy and she pushed the plunger down. She might die from this, but she would do anything for Bill. As the last drops of elven blood entered, she withdrew the needle. Homo Elfapians had amazing healing abilities and genetically they weren't too off the branch of Homo Sapiens; it might fix her.
    **********
    When little Edwina had finally come into the world eleven months later it was a surprise for everyone. Nobody had ever seen a human-elf cross before. Everyone knew it was just plain impossible. Had always been impossible. The two species had intermarried for hundreds of years and nobody had ever developed a way to create offspring. But Edwina's elven features were plain from the first moment everyone saw her.
    Marion had to confess everything. Tell Bill the truth. It was the hardest thing she'd ever done. But he forgave her and stayed. She had expected ... hoped ... the elven blood would heal her uterus when she made the injection. The result was far more than that. God laughs at our plans, she thought. The healing worked. However, something in the blood also mutated her eggs. All of her eggs. Maybe her aim with the needle wasn't as good as it should have been, but there it was. She had accidently developed a way for all those inter-species married couples to have offspring.
     
  6. newjerseyrunner
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    I suggest looking into how the DNA actually causes you to become what you are. It's mostly chemical signals that tell special tissues to turn on or off based on certain other triggers.

    For example: The Sonic Hedgehog gene. Decrease it's power by 5% and you'll have four fingers on one hand, increase it by the same amount, you'll end up with six. Turn it on a little too soon, and your fingers will be huge, turn it on a little too late, your fingers will be stubs. Take the gland that produces it and put a piece of it on the other side of the developing hand, and you'll get two hands on the same arm.

    If you stop looking at people as people and look at them for what we really are, you'll understand why it's very hard. We're a chemical reaction. A very very very precise one. What you're proposing is altering the chemical process, but ending up with a similar result.

    Don't worry, it's not all bad news, I have a proposal: splicing. If you take human DNA and splice in very specific alien genes in very specific locations, you can alter the behavior of the DNA slightly enough that it'll produce the hybrid and still be somewhat stable. We're already learning how to do this and are combining organisms in the lab already going one gene at a time.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand this part. Why don't you want her to be a hybrid?
     
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  8. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    You've got good answers on the genetics front already. If you're going for realism, I agree with the consensus that neither of your original options are great (1. because mitochondrial DNA doesn't really influence any phenotype other than mitochondria - nuclear DNA is what's important there; 2. just isn't how real life works, as others have explained). I want to start by pointing out that IMO the most practical thing you can do is consider exactly how realistic you need/want to be. Deciding to focus on the fantasy side is perfectly fine, will save you a lot of bother worrying about veracity, and may allow you to explore interesting angles that realism would prohibit. But from here on, I'll assume you want a reasonable reflection of real life...

    The most obvious option, as @Steerpike said, is just to have them crossbreed (if they can): either the characters themselves or at some point in their ancestry (e.g. most [all?] modern Homo sapiens have a significant percentage of Neanderthal and Denisovian DNA in their genome - we are hybrids). Otherwise...

    Plot-wise, are your characters trying to produce a human-elf hybrid intentionally or is it incidental?

    If the former, transgenics (the splicing that @newjerseyrunner mentioned) is probably your best bet. This would involve a lot of test tube work (channeling desirable elf genes onto bacterial vectors, then splicing those into the human genome - using restriction enzymes, appropriate polymerases, other enzymes etc - possibly even a retroviral method?) and then embryo transfer to get a viable embryo (and there will likely be lots of failures) into a uterus (or just gestate it in a test tube I suppose). This method would allow the scientists to target the specific elf genes they want an otherwise-human to have (assuming they've mapped out the elf genome in advance).

    If the latter, @CrusherBrooks ' chimaerism might be a better option. It's something that can be done intentionally in a lab, but also happens sporadically in natural pregnancies. So maybe MC agrees to act as a surrogate for her patient & his partner, not knowing that she's already pregnant with her own child - the two conceptuses form a chimaera (that sounds fairly contrived...). Or she's having an affair with her patient and gets pregnant to both him and her human partner (although that means that a straight crossbreed is possible)...

    You could even ascribe elf embryos some special ability that promotes chimaerism (perhaps to an extent that they could intentionally breed a hybrid without test tubes?). There are real life examples of gestational interaction between embryos/foetuses (competition, e.g. twinning may be rare in horses because whichever embryo gets the best start tends to starve the other of nutrients so it aborts; predation, e.g. cannibalism in shark foetuses). I'm not sure what the advantage would be in elf embryos having evolved to chimaerise though... and I think the results of chimaerism would be far less predictable than splicing; they probably couldn't pick which particular traits they wanted babies to have (other than via selective breeding).

    A final possibility I can think of is to ignore genetics altogether. Remember that phenotype is influenced by both genotype and the environment (the weighting of that varies greatly between traits), and there's no reason that the gestational environment (i.e. the mother's uterus) couldn't heavily influence development. (In fiction anyway; I think in the real world genetics tend to predominate the direction in which early development occurs.) Elves and humans seem reasonably similar to me, so I'd find it plausible that they could act as surrogate mothers for each other. So maybe you have an embryo that is 100% human genetically, but it goes into an elf uterus for gestation and responds to the various chemical cues floating around (hormones, cytokines, growth factors, etc). Maybe the versions of those chemical cues that elves have are particularly strong/influential, and the resultant baby ends up with lots of elf traits, even though it's genetically human (this method assumes that human genetics has the plasticity to result in elf traits). Or you could go vice versa: elf embryos are particularly open to the influence of their gestational environment, so the resultant baby would look human, but have a few traditionally elven traits (those that happen to be driven far more by genotype than environment).

    Just for interest's sake - your method 1 (nuclear transfer) is one of the main ways cloning is performed in real life, and it's been proposed for resurrecting extinct species, e.g. mammoths. We have extant animal species that are probably closely related enough to work as surrogate mothers (elephants). We have viable genetic material (nicely preserved cells from some of those mammoths that have been found in giant hunks of ice). Not many viable ova though, hence using nuclear transfer to put a mammoth nucleus into an elephant ovum. But what would we do with a mammoth baby if we made one? I don't know if there's much appropriate habitat left, and even if we had habitat that could support them, we'd probably shatter the ecosystem that's sprung up in the meantime. And life in a zoo isn't much of a life. Then there's the academic argument that it wouldn't be 100% a mammoth anyway, because it would have elephant mitochondrial DNA :) +/- influence from the elephant uterus (IMO neither of these would make much practical difference).

    Good luck!
     
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  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cuckoos?

    Possibly Elves developed chimaerism so that they could implant in a womb, any womb, and then walk away and be all elf-y without worrying about it, knowing that the child would be well cared for by the cuckooed parents.

    Possibly that's where the myths about changelings came from?
     
  10. Sifunkle
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    Yep, my mind went to brood parasitism when I was trying to nut out the evolutionary logic. Not sure chimaerism quite works though - fiction-wise, why not just make a standard elf conceptus able to implant anywhere without the chimaera caveat? And even if chimaerism conferred implantibility, it also dilutes out the parents' genetic fitness, which is against how selection works in my understanding. And circumstances where you'd have an elf conceptus present in a foreign uterus alongside a native conceptus seem fairly contrived (possibly just my lack of imagination), so I doubt there'd have been many opportunities for selection to act on it.

    I'm not saying it's a bad idea though - I think it's a great one. There are just lots of logical hurdles that creativity needs to get around :)
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because the chimaerism means that the baby will have human characteristics so that the human parents accept it, only developing its elf-iness at ,eg., puberty. After all, how often do teenagers turn into something alien at that point?
     
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  12. CastlePilot19
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    Thank you all who have replied, (I didn't think I'd get that many) and I've now realised three things; 1. I should have explained myself better, 2. I should have done better research and 3. I really need to revise biology for my GCSEs.

    Basically that's what I wanted to do but from my amateur research, I couldn't find anything like that and the only way similar to that was with method 1 using the mitrochondria and now I've realised since everyone has pointed it out to me that the mitrochondria has in actual fact, has nothing to do with genetics only respiration and energy. I also used it because it was familiar when I learnt about cloning last year but obviously cloning is no where related in my story, so I'll blame that on myself. So could I technically do that and put the DNA inside the human egg and fertilize it??

    With the elves accelerated blood healing, its kind of like how in Vampire Diaries, vampires blood can heal themselves as well as humans and can change them into vampires (but in my story you can't be changed into a elf, you have to be born one or be genetically engineered like my MC). So that's where I kind of got my method 2 idea from. However, as the
    I realise why its not very realistic now.

    Okay so the things I should clear up:
    As @doggiedude so perfectly wrote (literally that is one of the scenes in my head) which was actually my intention in the story is, my biologist can't have kids therefore chose to study/research the DNA of elves and embryos. The elf patient, is the only elf who chooses to interact with humans (I know a bit cliché) therefore allows scientists to study his DNA but because my biologist knows they have accelerated healing tries to see if his DNA will work in humans eggs and after many trials, she succeeds so uses her own eggs and then plants the embryo back into her womb. (Sorry if this sounds confusing)
    Also, the reason why I don't want my MC to be a full hybrid @ChickenFreak is because like @Sifunkle kind of guessed, later after my MC is born her mother the biologist and the patient do end up having an affair which leads to the birth of her younger brother who is a hybrid born from standard reproduction. Whereas my MC is a test tube baby therefore her elven characteristics/genetics only start appearing like @Shadowfax said during puberty.

    I did with my research look at surrogacy like @Sifunkle put but because the elf is a guy, there's no way my biologist would be able to get a female elf to surrogate a human embryo or an eleven embryo be surrogated by a human, even though its a very good explanation. The first idea for my MC to be chimeric by @Steerpike is also really good but it kind of freaks/creeps me out an embryo eating another embryo even if its a plausible and happens in real life. As well as the idea of Cuckoos. (Sorry)
    While splicing just confuses me since I just think of plants but I will look into further details with that since its apparently the most realistic.

    Thank you again for your contribution and I'm sorry if I confused anyone since all this genetics research is new to me and I really appreciate all the ideas everyone has written.:)
     
  13. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    You could have an Elven egg and a Human sperm mixed up in a Hybrid cocktail in genetics lab. Not as fun as hot sweaty human/elven sexual congress, but hey. Would just need to figure out a way to introduce the sperm to fertilize the egg. Perhaps the egg needs to be breached by a nano needle to allow the sperm to fertilize it.

    Problem, solution, everybody wins. Complicate the process a bit as in the real science such things are not possible. Go nuts. :p
     
  14. Sifunkle
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    I like the commentary on adolescence :D I think this means that the elf cells are somehow able to camouflage themselves as the other cells until a certain trigger during adolescence (what trigger? the same in all species? or do elves only trick humans?). What about a chimaera that was 99% elf to begin with? Would the 99% take on the 1%? It could be orchestrated, but I think there are better options if the intent is to have elf traits emerge at puberty. Just picking nits, really :)

    I may be taking your phrasing out of context, but mitochondria has plenty to do with genetics; just not the kind of 'external physical description' genetics you're thinking of. Mitochondria have their own DNA (mtDNA) which is completely separate from the standard 46 chromosomes people think about humans as having (ditto every other species), and mtDNA only really holds sway over how the mitochondria themselves are put together (which is pretty important; you won't get far without mitochondria!). Just like you always inherit a Y chromosome (if you have one) from your father, you always inherit your mtDNA from your mother. Evolutionary studies therefore use mtDNA heaps because it can track maternal lines (just as they use Y chromosome markers to track paternal lines). Mitochondria have their own DNA because, basically, they were once their own organism (something like bacteria). At some point in the tree of life, symbiosis occurred - it was advantageous for them to live sheltered inside other cells, and their energy generation benefitted those cells. That's called the endosymbiont theory (it's also considered true of plant chloroplasts). So pretty much all extant animals/plants/fungi/etc are actually weird bacterial hybrid things ;)

    Do what sorry? Nuclear transfer of an elf nucleus into a human egg? Yes (assuming human ova are compatible surrogates eggs for elves). You'd be cloning the elf the nucleus came from. You wouldn't need to fertilise it though, as nuclear transfer uses a nucleus that already has a full complement of chromosomes (diploid, vs haploid in sex cells). The thing with nuclear transfer is that they use an anucleate ovum (one that's had it's existing haploid nucleus removed), so that the cloned nucleus basically replaces what was there. You could consider using a haploid elf nucleus and just adding it to a regular human egg so it fuses with the existing haploid human nucleus... which is basically how sex works as standard. (The caveat here is that you could use a haploid nucleus from an elf ovum - that's been proposed as a method for lesbian partners to have their own biological children/for how our species can do away with men entirely).

    You could also consider a ploidy shift. Maybe fuse a haploid elf nucleus to a diploid human nucleus to get a functional triploid hybrid nucleus? Or tetraploid might have a higher hit rate - fusion of a diploid nucleus from each species. There'd probably be a lot of failed attempts before you got a viable daughter cell to grow a person from though, and its very likely the child would be sterile (because the chromosomes wouldn't know how to pair up properly during meiosis). This type of thing is done a lot in developing novel crops (often with increased productivity): look up 'triticale' on Wikipedia as an example.

    I think @ChickenFreak was more quibbling with your terminology. I take it that by 'full hybrid' you mean 'has 50% chromosomes from an elf parent, 50% from a human'? In a lot of ways you're either a hybrid or you're not (because different species still have a lot of common ground in their genomes; and because sex involves random chromosome distribution as well as recombination, you could never guarantee that you'd get that even split of representation between genes unique to both elves and humans).

    It doesn't have to be creepy (and chimaerism is distinct from intra-uterine competition/cannibalism/etc; I was just spitballing an evolutionary reason for 'intentional chimaerism'). Probably the earlier in development chimaerism happens, the less creepy it would be. You could be a chimaera without knowing it.

    I think splicing probably suits your purposes best. It sounds like your scientist specifically wants to give humans the elves' accelerated healing, and splicing would be the way to target that. Real world GMOs typically have (relatively) simple gene sequences spliced in (the more you have to do, the greater the scope for error) - crops given a single gene that results in herbicide resistance, mice given a single gene for jellyfish fluorescent protein, etc. Especially if it relates to their blood, I'd imagine your elves' healing power would be an incredibly complex trait, under the control of a plethora of different genes, other regulatory DNA sequences and interactions between them. That's probably not realistic by our current real-world ability, but I think that's a compromise that's easily forgiven for fictional purposes :) And that 'scope for error' I mentioned above could easily explain why the child ends up with elf traits unrelated to blood healing; there were a bunch of 'hitchhiker genes' spliced in, or some other type of unforeseen circumstance, because of the complexity of what they were trying to achieve.

    That's... pretty much IVF, which is not only possible but fairly commonplace. This would imply basic sexual compatibility between humans and elves (so why don't they just have sex? You could orchestrate some 'tab A doesn't fit slot B' thing, but if the sperm and the egg are compatible...). You're right that they'd have to put effort into actually getting the sperm capable of fertilising the egg in a test tube though: much harder in the absence of the normal chemical cues of the uterus (or fallopian tubes, or wherever it is that fertilisation occurs in humans).
     
  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Sifunkle I was merely stating fact. Humans are genetically similar to chimpanzees, but that does not mean swapping gametes will produce an offspring. (If it does then it would change our understanding of how bio-chemistry works.)

    I do like your 'square peg, round hole' theory, and IVF or test tube may be possible to a degree. (Way to go all Dune on the problem, by basically only Human/Human compatible beings littering the universe you have created.)

    In my own works, humans and the various alien races can have sex. Though they would not be able to conceive offspring, without the aid of some highly advanced genetics splicing. Though it would lower the odds of compatibility significantly to have a carbon based being try to impregnate a silicon based being. Not withstanding that there are both types of aliens (carbon and silicon based), it is simply a highly complicated process to even try and succeed at that level of hybridization. Even though I have a wild card in the mix (only one in the entire universe), that was bio-engineered to have tetra-helic DNA containing both carbon and silicon bases. There is the added bonus that they lack the reproductive organs as part of their engineering, but can enjoy sexual stimuli.

    But at the end of the day, life will find a way as they say in Jurassic Park. :p
     
  16. CastlePilot19
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    @Sifunkle Okay I understand Splicing is the best way to create the hybid, so in simple terms how could my scientist do this, using a human embryo?
     
  17. Sifunkle
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    @Cave Troll - I'm lost. I thought you were suggesting IVF (which would assume compatibility between elf/human germ cells, which you're now quibbling?). And was that Dune comment aimed at me or the OP?

    Splicing is basically cutting and pasting a sequence from one genome into another. Probably time for some background reading if you want to know how it's achieved in the real world (which isn't to say that your fictional world has to do it that way... or that you have to explain the nitty gritty of it if it does...). Genetic engineering, particularly the 'Process' section, should give you decent insight, or Genetic engineering techniques in greater detail.
     
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  18. Cave Troll
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    @Sifunkle I was leaning more towards test tube babies, but take that one as you like. The Dune thing is for the OP. :)
     
  19. MrTypo2016
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    According to my knowledge the only way of getting the exact outcome you are after is direct modifying of the gene code. Simply utilizing gametes of either species won't cut it. If multiple sperm fertilize a single egg it results in non identical twins. Same idea for when a menstrual cycle releases multiple eggs. You can not have a sperm and and egg meet and have the result carry the DNA from three parents. That is physically impossible with reproductive cells as we know them.

    However you might say that "elves" work differently. Perhaps an elf egg is uniquely capable of such a thing. Of accepting multiple sperm and then randomizing the code between more than two sources. But it seems more realistic to simply attribute it to genetic modification. As there is literally no reason for such a system to evolve. It is actually somewhat counter intuitive to the natural selection process. And therefore wouldn't be selected for.
     

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