Illustration by Epic Made
From Homo transformans: The Origin and Nature of the Species
My name is Mary Elizabeth. I penned the novel Homo transformans: The Origin and Nature of the Species. The story describes the rise of a new species of human, Homo transformans (H. transformans), and the conflicts that arise in society from their ability to transform at will into different animals – including apex predators. The ability of some people to undergo metamorphosis when others cannot creates a rift in society. Corrupt organizations, which use the capabilities of H. transformans to achieve dominance, clash with groups that defend and support them.
A Hidden Agenda
Through the story of H. transformans, I hope to introduce people to genetics: what genes are, how they work, factors that influence them, and how they may be inherited. Human genes and their functions are woven into the narrative to impart a sense of realism as well as to explain gene functions. Thus, the science of genetics in H. sapiens, as we know it at present, underpins the story of H. transformans. Although humans share a significant proportion of their genes with other kinds of mammals, the notion that humans can undergo metamorphosis is entirely imaginary.
In the story of H. transformans, people who can transform are hunted for their capability. Hence, they must rely on the characteristics of their “alternate species” for survival. These may include wolves, foxes, badgers, raccoons, deer, and a host of others primarily within the class of mammals. Yet, an H. transformans can only become another animal if he or she has the genes to do so.
For most H. transformans, metamorphosis is limited to one or two types of mammal – a notion not too farfetched. A few H. transformans possess the genetic ability to transform into raptors, an entirely different class of animals – considerably more farfetched notion since birds and reptiles branched away from the mammalian line long ago in the evolutionary tree. Even so, birds, reptiles, and mammals can be traced back to a common ancestor. Most rare are those H. transformans who can become a fire dragon – perhaps not as astronomically farfetched as first impressions might seem. In the story of H. transformans, dragons are mammals. There are many other imaginary creatures in the story, as well. Several of them are illustrated in the book.
The foremost villain in the story uses genetic engineering to manipulate the genes of humans and animals in order to create powerful and deadly hybrids ‒ both human and animal. Hence, the use and abuse of genetic engineering is another thread throughout the narrative.
My impetus for writing the story stems from marketing strategies used by some health-related entities. Several advertisements sound as though treatment for almost any disorder can now be targeted to an individual’s genetic make-up (genome). Not yet. Nevertheless, this goal is on the horizon. Currently, treatment is available for selected genetic disorders in which a single faulty or missing gene can be supplanted by a normal gene (gene therapy).
For example, you may have heard or read in the news about a new gene treatment for children born with a very rare, inherited, genetic disorder called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), also known as the “Bubble Baby Syndrome”. There are many subtypes of SCID, one of which is caused by a defective enzyme, adenosine deaminase (ADA) (Aiuti, et al., 2017). Adenosine deaminase is a critical enzyme that is widely used in the body, especially in the blood cells that fight infection (lymphocytes). The enzyme breaks down a toxin that would otherwise accumulate in these cells. This toxin is lethal to lymphocytes. So, when the enzyme cannot function properly, lymphocytes and other cells that fight infection die (Flinn & Gennery, 2018). ADA-SCID is caused by a change (mutation) in the gene that directs (codes for) the production of adenosine deaminase. Without effective treatment, infants born with ADA-SCID die from overwhelming bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
A new gene therapy treatment uses genetic engineering to modify bone marrow cells (stem cells) that make lymphocytes and other infection-fighting cells (Aiuti, et al., 2017; Ferrua & Aiuti, 2017). The genetic code for the enzyme adenosine deaminase is inserted into a virus. The virus serves as the means (vector) to transport and “upload” the gene into bone marrow cells that were taken from the affected child. The genetically re-engineered stem cells are returned to the child and taken up by the child’s bone marrow. The modified stems cells in the infant’s bone marrow can now produce lymphocytes with a normal enzyme (Ferrua & Aiuti, 2017).
Please visit my author website to preview the story of H. transformans: The Origin and Nature of the Species. The Home Page https://maryames.org provides a synopsis of it. (Note: the url suffix is .org). The Sneak Peeks page https://maryames.org/sneak-peeks/ provides excerpts and a selection of scenes from the story. The graphic artists of Epic Made produced 13 line art illustrations of creatures in the book and 15 paintings of scenes from the story. The author’s favorite painting is a spectacular scene of a Great Gray Dragon creating a firestorm.
The Readers Guide, a submenu under Sneak Peeks, https://maryames.org/readers-guides/ offers parental guidance and tips for reading (or skipping) the science which grounds the story. Buy a Book, also a submenu under Sneak Peeks, https://maryames.org/buy-a-book/ provides excerpts of critic reviews, with options to read the entire review, and options for purchasing the book. On the Meet Mary Elizabeth page https://maryames.org/meet-mary-elizabeth/, I encourage you to scroll down past the author’s biography to read the brief message, “The Role of Genes in Personalized Healthcare”.
More To Come
I anticipate publishing a weekly review on a topic that may be of interest. Questions about the story or the characters are welcome. Knotty science problems affecting human physiology are also welcome as are questions regarding gene functions. I will try to research your topic and provide a response to your queries. You can provide a comment or ask a question via the blog’s comment feature, by email at Haleth22@aol.com, or via my website https://maryames.org by using the “Contact Mary Elizabeth” at the bottom of each page.
Alas, I cannot provide guidance regarding specific genetic disorders and their treatment. Questions about genetic diseases and their treatments should be discussed with a geneticist or a healthcare provider who specializes in that particular disorder. You will find the National Institutes of Health’s Genetic Home Reference https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/ an excellent source of information for genetics https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer and genetic disorders https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition.
In the meantime, my next topic will be the distinction between science fiction and science fantasy.
Aiuti, A., Roncarolo, M. G., & Naldini, L. (2017). Gene therapy for ADA-SCID, the first marketing approval of an ex vivo gene therapy in Europe: paving the road for the next generation of advanced therapy medicinal products. EMBO molecular medicine, 9(6), 737–740. doi:10.15252/emmm.201707573.
Ferrua, F., and Aiuti, A. (2017.) Twenty-Five Years of Gene Therapy for ADA-SCID: From Bubble Babies to an Approved Drug. Hum Gene Ther, 28(11), 972-981. doi: 10.1089/hum.2017.175.
Flinn, A. M., & Gennery, A. R. (2018). Adenosine deaminase deficiency: a review. Orphanet journal of rare diseases, 13(1), 65. doi:10.1186/s13023-018-0807-5.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Genetics Home Reference. Adenosine deaminase deficiency. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/adenosine-deaminase-deficiency.
Send comments to Mary Elizabeth Ames at Haleth22@aol.com or use the Contact Mary Elizabeth box below.
orig. 2 August 2019
rev. 25 September 2019