This is one of the more unsettling 'wild card' scenarios. Read the section on possible causes for why it should be taken seriously.
- 2006: After two decades of debate, Global Warming is accepted as scientific fact. Meanwhile a few crackpots are warning of the next ecological disaster - DNA, they say, is becoming less stable, with possible devastating effect. They point to increasing levels of mutation in plant and animal kingdom, and an alleged decline in human fertility. The general consensus is that these are statistical artefacts.
- 2046: Increased genetic instability is accepted as scientific fact. The precise cause is still a matter of debate.
Unlike comic book science where super heroes arise from chance mutation, genetic instability has an almost overwhelmingly negative effect on the health of the ecosystem and human population.
- Foodstocks are in short supply. It is hard to get seed that breeds true.
- Food that looks 'ugly' is widely available at a discount - cucumbers that have imperfections (where sharp spines have been removed), misshapen apples and pears, mottled oranges, corn with a mix of yellow and black kernels.
- Families are smaller. Many are childless. Rates of adoption are up. It is not that unusual for women to have 8 or 9 miscarriages before their first successful child. Anti-miscarriage drugs are experimented with, but found to have very adverse effects.
- Photos of freak animals and plants, that were once considered intriguing and quirky, are now decidedly out of fashion. It's all just too commonplace.
Knock on Effects
Some of the less direct effects on society include:
- A rise in demand for Cosmetic surgery.
- Ostrisization of the deformed or crippled, as already happens in Japan.
- Increased sale of 'kits' for measuring your genetic health.
- Increase in adoption rates.
New Science of Mutation
A new science arises around mutational change. Scientists are at last able to identify some of the basic inner mechanisms of plants and animals:
- Mechanisms that control the size, shape and symmetry of arms, legs, fins, claws, wings, that determine that the heart is to the left rather than to the right, that the right lung has three lobes, not two.
- The handedness-mechanism that causes growing plants to 'wind' in a way that follows the sun.
- The mechanism that determines whether a new side shoot becomes a fruiting spur or a branch.
They also begin to be able to predict the relative frequencies of changes in plants and animals from analysis of patterns of repetition in DNA. The dogma that DNA is the sole carrier of genetic information begins to wane, as a raft of new genetic elements which modulate its behaviour are discovered. There is even talk of an electrical genetic subsystem based on transfer of electrons in photosynthesis to small RNA molecules.
Investigation of Causes
At this time a number of possible causes for genetic instability are being investigated:
- 'Escape' of GMO technology into the wild: Analogues of transposable elements that cause hybrid disgenesis in flies are present and measurable in the general gene pool. Whether this is cause or effect is hard to tell. Transfection vectors used to transfer DNA between species are also known to be present, but this could just be down to better methods of detection.
- Pollution: Plasticisers used in cling film and other flexible plastics are known hormone analogues and mimic estrogens and other reproductive hormones.
- Radiation from mobile phone masts: Whilst Mobile phones in 2046 use far less power for transmission than early predecessors in the 2020's did, they, or rather we should say 'radio-connected smart devices', are ubiquitous. Worryingly the high frequencies used are shown to resonate with natural frequencies of DNA. Some argue that the transmissions today are safe, and that we are only now seeing the effects of genetic damage done in past decades.
- Micro-Radioactive particles: Widely dispersed accumulated long-half-life particles after 3-Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), Wilmhurst (2011), StMarika (2029) and undisclosed releases from weapons testing, may be contributing to increased levels of poor genetic health particularly thyroid cancers and consequent disturbances to reproduction.
- Reduced Van-Allen belt: Climate change has affected the naturally protective ionised layer around Earth. Increased solar radiation could be having knock on effects on people, animals and plants. Some evidence exists that solar sun-spot activity is higher than it was a century ago. Paradoxically lower levels of visible pollution (smog) may be contributing to the damaging effects.
The general conclusion amongst scientists: Further research is necessary.
- Twenty Years Since Chernobyl - non fiction site with disturbing black and white photos from the area. Hover over the images for captions.