MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: Could the mutations of the 50s B-Movies exist?

Date: Tue Aug 14 09:29:44 2001
Posted By: Yvonne A. Simpson, Grad student, Pathology, Edinburgh University
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 996124618.Ge

This has got to be the most interesting set of questions I've had.  Ok, 
I'll tell you what I think but these are only my opinions. 

1 Amoeba blob question.  An amoeba is a single celled organism which moves 
about.  The largest single cell in the world is an egg.  Now, the Ostrich 
egg is the biggest bird egg and the only one bigger than thart would be that 
of the Basking shark.  I don't know if any of the dinosaur eggs were bigger 
than this but all these egss have fairly hard outsides to protect them from 
damage.  An amoeba is tiny and has only a cell membrane. The cell membrane 
would not be thick enough to protect a huge amoeba if it moved about and
it wouldn't be able to hold the inards inside if there were too many 
inards.  Perhaps a more plausable monster would be something like a slime 
mould.  These move about and are congregations of many cells.  The limiting 
factor for a single celled monster would be diffusion.  The oxygen it 
needed to survive would have to diffuse all the way from the outside to the 
inside and it is just too far without help.  that's why we have lungs and 
blood networks - to move oxygen around our bodies.  A huge amoeba wouldn't 
have this.  If it ate humans then it would have to catch them first.  An 
amoeba moves very slowly and I think the 'pretend to be a pond' routine 
would work better.  Amoebas eat things by invaginating the prey inside so a 
giant amoba would have to contain the whole human.  The digestive juices 
would also have to be very strong.  

Killer plants question
Hmm, intelligent plants.  Well, some plants are able to signal to each 
other chemically if they are being eaten so they can communicate.  There 
are carnivorous plants but the biggest thing they eat is frogs.  Some 
plants can move their leaves and stems really quickly e.g. Venus Fly Trap, 
The Sensitive Plant etc. But I don't know of any which can move their roots 
quickly.  perhaps if the plant could throw out poison pods if distubed (The 
way that Indian Balsam throws out seeds when disturbed)and the poison was so 
strong that the person died right away (so they didn't run out of the 
plants reach) the plant could get the nutrients as the body decayed and 
juices leached into the soil or if the plant had moving bits with digestive 
tips e.g. the sundew.  I think that some work has been done on sensation in 
plants and they discovered that if a person burns a plant leaf and that 
person comes back again the plant 'recognizes' them in some way. I think 
they measured electrical activity in the plant.  If they plant can detect 
chemicals it can smell.  Plants don't have ears so they couldn't hear.  
Plants can detect light so with a bit of evolution they could probably get 
eyes.  A carnivorous plant would probably live in a boggy area since they 
tend to be carnivorous in places where nutrients are scarce - good scenery 
for a B movie.  A bit of evolution and I think you probably could get 
killer plants.  
Planty human - well, plant cells have hard cell walls and that is what 
makes them rigid so a human made of plant cells wouldn't be able to move 
much.  A plant-like human though, I suppose if cells could photosynthesise 
then that would be an evolutionary benefit.  Green people - yeah, why not?

Radiation time - 
Ok, This is called the hopeful monster hypothesis.  Anything which got a 
big blast of radiation would either die very rapidly from radiation 
poisening or die more slowly from cancer or infections (it would wipe out 
their immune system).  If a person got a smaller blast then it may mutate 
their sex cells (eggs or sperm) and if the DNA was damaged then this would 
be passed onto the child.  Most DNA damage is bad but you may occassionally 
get a good change.  There's a king of heirachy of genes so if a gene high 
in the hierachy, a developmental control gene, got mutated this could have 
lots of downstream effects on the body.  The problem is that if a new 
creature was producted what would want to mate with it?  A leech couldn't 
grow big enough because it couldn't get the chemicals to diffuse into its 
great big body in the same way it could when smaller. Evolution takes 
millions of years so adding a bit of radiation wouldn't really speed things up 

Frozen creature question.  

Ok here's the problem with being frozen
1 - if you can't repair things in your body it would degrade.  The ice 
crystals poke through the cell walls so when you melt you die.  Some 
siberian frogs or toads get round this problem by having increasing the 
glucose level in their blood to very high levels which stops the crystals 
spoiling the cells.  Some insects can survive being frozen and some fish 
which live very low in the water have "antifreeze solution" in their blood.  The 
problem with a big beast being frozen over millions of years is that the 
earth around it would change.  Earth would turn to stone, water might melt 
and dry up.  You see the problem.  Even ice moves so the thing could get 
torn to bits or ground away.  Some little creatures called erm sea monkeys 
can lay eggs which survive a very long time and are activated 
by water.  They also have some sort of predator which does the same.  

Insect/person idea.  
We do share some body organisation genes with insects but insects have very 
different chemical and physical composition to humans.  They have their 
skeleton on the outside - we have ours on the inside, etc.   You could 
probably put some insect genes into a human and make a new chemical in the 
body but genes need the right environment to be activated and functional. 

Big insects
The problem insects have is that they cannot get big because they don't 
have an effective circulatory system.  Their internal juices just sort of 
slosh about inside.  Now, say they had long for natural selection to select 
features which eventually led to a circulatory system - they'de be able to 
get bigger.  They would need an internal skeleton because they aren't 
designed to be big.  Spiders legs work by hydraulics etc.  Who knows - with 
time...  They used to be bigger in the time of dinosaurs because the 
atmosphere was different.  They would also need to get  a way to heat 
up quickly as they are cold blooded and would be too slow to mave around if 

Ok. must get on with my work.  Contact me if you want more info becuase thinking about this 
was great fun. 

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