According to Two PhDs, Scientists Already Have the Genophage from Mass Effect

Monday, 10 October 2016 - 2:05PM
Technology
Astrophysics
Alien Life
Monday, 10 October 2016 - 2:05PM
According to Two PhDs, Scientists Already Have the Genophage from Mass Effect
We've spoken in the past about Mass Effect's use of quantum entanglement to create a communicator that can transmit messages securely (and almost instantaneously), but at this year's New York Comic-Con, the panelists, Erin MacDonald (PhD, Astrophysics Expert), and Eric P. Spana (PhD, Assistant Professor in Biology at Duke University), were more interested in some of the biology, virology, and weapons tech from Bioware's uber-popular sci-fi shooter.

The Andromeda Strain Problem: All the Aliens Look Like Humans


One of the first things the panelists spoke about was the physiology of the aliens in the games. Besides the jellyfish-like Hanar and a few other species, most of the aliens look basically like humans: bipedal, vertical symmetry, a cluster of sensory organs in a head, arms, etc. This is an issue brought up in Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain, in which a passage mentions that in an experiment, humans' conceptions of aliens always ended up looking more or less like humans. 

The most obvious explanation for this in Mass Effect and beyond is that players and viewers empathize with and recognize human-like aliens more easily than if they were, say, Rachni (which look like giant ants/plankton). In a game where you have to charm and intimidate your way through conversations and care about saving the galaxy from destruction, being able to identify with aliens is a big deal. However, aliens are still alien, as the next topic made clear...

Garrus Wouldn't Be a Good Paramour


One of the most controversial and popular features of Mass Effect is the ability to initiate a romance with your ship's alien crew members (or your human ones). One of these potential mates is the male Turian Garrus Vakarian, who is an option for female Commander Shepards (the main character). Eric Spana made it pretty clear that, being an avian race, Turian mating would not be very satisfying for humans, considering that birds mate very...quickly. Sorry, fan-fiction writers.

We Already Have a A Proto-Genophage


One of the topics that came up was the genophage, the epidemic created by the Salarians to control the reproduction of the Krogan species and keep them from overrunning the galaxy. The panelists brought up the gene drive, a process by which scientists can alter the DNA or RNA of certain species by introducing members who have been modified in a lab. As the modified creatures mate and reproduce, their DNA is passed on to subsequent generations, which reproduce in turn. Using genetics, scientists can cause a population crash by adding certain dominant genes, such as ones that cause death before sexual maturation.

Mosquitoes are a prime candidate for this kind of "genophage," with scientists already conducting experiments in Florida. The idea would be to wipe out populations of mosquitoes carrying the Zika and malaria viruses by creating a new breed of mosquitoes that have defective genes.

Guns Wouldn't Work on Different Planets



One point Erin brought up was the problem with firing weapons on other planets, which have different atmospheres and gravity. On the Moon, for example, gravity is about 1/6th that of Earth's, meaning that the recoil created by firing a weapon could push you back several feet. Firing something like a rocket launcher, Erin said, could even carry you a fair distance.

On planets like Venus, where the atmosphere is extremely dense, firing a projectile at all may be impossible. Rather than travelling through regular air, the pressure and density of the gases in some atmospheres could stop a bullet like water.

Thresher Maws Shouldn't Exist on Tuchanka

 
Finally, Thresher Maws were brought up, specifically the one on the Krogan homeworld of Tuchanka. One of the missions on the planet involves fighting a Thresher Maw on the planet's surface, but Eric Spana brought up the point that a creature of that size would need a huge amount of food to keep it active and alive. Though whales are the largest living creatures on the planet, he said, the sheer amount of plankton they collect is able to sustain them. Thresher Maws, on the other hand, have no apparent source of food, unless they survive by absorbing cosmic radiation like exogorths from Star Wars. For the amount of moving around they do, they need a constant supply of energy. Which may have something to do with their name, actually: when you're the size of a Maw, all you really have time for is eating.

For all you Mass Effect fans, the release date of the new game, Andromeda, is already rumored to be March 21st, 2017—we'll keep our eyes peeled!

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