Lately I’ve been really enjoying watching Almost Human, a science-fiction police procedural. It’s set in a kinda-sorta cyberpunk world, where there are humans, androids, and also genetically enhanced humans, who have the in-universe nickname of “Chromes”.
Being a biologist, of course, this idea immediately fascinated me. Although the show doesn’t really go into any detail about how Chromes are engineered, there are enough details to make me extremely curious—and imaginative. (And no, don’t worry, this post contains no spoilers.)
We aren’t told that much about Chromes, but there are three main tidbits that the show offers up:
1) They are extremely well genetically engineered humans. As the show puts it, “all the boxes are checked” when they are created. They’re gorgeous people, incredibly healthy and fit, free of genetic diseases, with a long life expectancy, and of course they’re pretty much all geniuses.
2) They are, as one might expect, are extremely expensive to create (though we have no information on whether they’re made in artificial wombs, or gestated in the usual location).
3) And most intriguingly … the show, so far, has always stated that Chromes are ”purchased” by the parents, who are basically purchasing the engineering of their children.
Now, speaking as one who has had genetics training, this made me wonder: if two Chromes have a baby, does the next generation get a Chrome out of it? And then I thought, wait, can Chromes even conceive babies? Which leads right into my current pet speculation: what if these almost-super-human Chromes are sterile by design? That would be a masterstroke that kills two birds with one stone! Because:
1) If the Chrome genomes you’re selling are sterile, then you don’t have to worry about two sets of genes mixing into a less-than-perfect genotype/phenotype in the next generation, which is probably fantastic for your legal liability in terms of the product you are selling, i.e. a perfect life. I can totally see a lawyer arguing that if my company gives you genes that then give rise to a less-than-perfect baby, it’s false advertising or somesuch on my part, cue lawsuits.
And possibly more importantly, 2) if Chromes can’t reproduce, then whoever is producing the Chromes is basically getting a copyright on the genes because they can’t be propagated! If one was inclined to be severely cynical, one could probably envision Monsanto doing this, should they ever get into the business of creating human seeds. (Of course, that still leaves human cloning wide open, but I wouldn’t put it beyond a company to encode some proprietary kill switch in the telomeres …)
The computer scientist Donald Knuth once quipped regarding our efforts into sequencing and undestanding the human genome: “I have a hunch that the unknown sequences of DNA will decode into copyright notices and patent protections.” Do you know, in this show, they just might.
— Aperture Science Journal Club: Almost Human: Futuristic Biotech Speculations