[ExI] bees again

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sun May 19 15:53:15 UTC 2013

On 19/05/2013 15:42, spike wrote:
> My idea is to try to use genetic engineering to make the cockroach 
> more attractive.  We do the gene sequencing, see if we can figure out 
> what makes a bee's wings transparent and what makes for those yellow 
> and black stripes, then see if we can gene-splice those sequences and 
> create a cockroach that looks like a huge bee.  Or failing that, see 
> if we can get them to at least have colorful wings like a butterfly, 
> something other than that ugly shit-brown they now have.  Then perhaps 
> we can get people to grudgingly accept them and stop using so much 
> pesticide, which would reduce costs and perhaps remove a possible 
> factor in honeybee decline.  If we can make sheep that glow in the 
> dark, we should be able to make prettier cockroaches.
> Have we any gene-splicing hipsters who can suggest a way to do this?

Some people are trying using ordinary breeding:
and enthusiasts are of course happy to point out all the existing patterns:

But I agree we can do much better! As far a glance at the web suggests, 
there has not been a deep study of color or patterning genetics, but 
there is plenty about their fairly complex metabolism (they make use of 
symbiotic bacteria to act as an extra, rapidly evolving, liver). But 
insects are insects, so we should be able to move some genetic networks 
and see what happens.

The simplest is of course just colorant genes like green fluorescent 
protein or pigments like carotenids, pterins . I think genes for these 
have been characterised. The real trick would be to transfer structural 
color: the right patterning of chitin layers can produce the amazing 
iridiscent colors found in beetles, bugs and butterflies.
Unfortunately nobody seems to have characterized the genes controlling 
this yet. Once we get them, I suspect they can be copied.

One area where we do have genes is beetle horns. Maybe giving the 
cockroaches some impressive horns might improve their charisma? Since at 
least Madagascar hissing cockroaches got pronotal horns we should be 
able to transfer the scarab beetle horn control

Beyond that, butterfly wing scale colour is of course the holy grail:

It is a bit tricky to control development well, but cockroaches are 
likely perfect candidates.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford University

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