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Punchinello writes...

As long as I'm on the subject of clones...
I've noticed you've been fielding questions about the clones unique coloration. I think at least one person made the observation that there were other structural differences as well. Different types of horns or fins. Different types of builds to the extent that you could interpret some skeletal differences. And maybe I'm crazy, but I would swear I remember Lexington's clone having a spiked ball at the end of his tail?

Now, I don't read fiction (even in a cartoon) in a manner that compels me to think the author must have some kind of explanation for this change. I interpreted it as artistic license. The clones looked like creative variations on a visual theme. They were fun. Interpreting the show as reality, set to film, inspires people to demand to know exactly what obscure feature of "gargoyles science" makes this happen though. I don't think I really like the way it's assumed that a clone of an organism would replicate the donor organism in every detail. That's probably another idea borrowed from star trek.

The concencus right now seems to be that the clones features were altered by a side effect of being rapidly aged in tubes. (They do that with beer now, you know.) However, it's occurred to me that there might be a much more plausible and more interesting explanation. The clones features could have far less to do with the fact that they're clones, than it does with the fact that they're clones of gargoyles.

When an organism is being put together at the molecular level, the process is working against certain forces. Most obviously, gravity, but other forces as well. So there are certain mechanical limitations on the way an embryo can form in the womb. Biology confronts that by developing tissue in various ways. From a mechanical perspective, bone tissue develops by an accretionary process which is technically similar to the way a seashell would form. Muscle tissue forms a gauzy scaffold though, and then develops vasculature into the scaffold.

Ultimately, all of these mechanical processes are compelled to action chemically, by the properties of DNA. That doesn't mean that the final result would be identical for every conceivable circumstance though. Many highly ordered, developmental processes and simple, dumb forces impinge upon our development in the womb, besides the chemical synthesis of our DNA. So while my genes inform the shape of my nose, for example, they are not the only thing which begin to inform it. And some structural features in an organism are more rigidly dictated by genetics than others.

Our genes are more of a blueprint for a theme. We're one theme. I'm not suggesting that the variation could be extraordinary, as I don't want to imply that we are less indebted to our genes than we are. The variation I'm talking about amounts to some subtle changes in morphology. These changes would not always be conspicuous, but sometimes they can be glaring. The coloration of domestic cats, for instance, while informed by their genes, is the product of several developmental forces. And when you clone a domestic cat, you usually get a cat with completely different coloration than the donor. You can easily end up with a calico when you clone a black cat.

If it had been a documentary instead of a cartoon show, I would have suspected that you would get unique results from cloning a gargoyle.

Seeing a gargoyle would be professionally interesting to anyone involved in the biological sciences. But seeing a group of three or more gargoyles would be extraordinary. Even though we define species in terms of reproductive isolation these days, we still use morphology to identify them. And gargates exhibit morphology unlike any other reproductively isolated species in nature. I've mentioned before that the most interesting aspect of the gargoyles, to me, is not the "turning to stone thing," but the fact that you have the morphology of Lexington, Brooklyn, Griff, Una, and Zafiro within one reproductively isolated group.

All members of a species exhibit morphological differences. All tigers and giraffes conform to their species respective morphologies to subtly different extents. We don't usually observe the differences outside our own species, but even when we examine our species differences from person to person, barring aberrations, the changes are never more than minor cosmetic distinctions. Mostly it amounts to slightly different fatty tissue distribution in the face or melanin content in the skin. When racial confirmation is examined, it is only in terms of proportional averages of the length of the limbs to the dimensions of the torso. Even where sexual dimorphism is concerned, the primary characteristics are actually variations on the same organs. This applies to almost every animal on the planet.

When we look at the gargoyles though, they look like Darwin's grab bag. When you compare Brooklyn and Lexington, two members of a species from the same regionally isolated set of genes, you see extreme morphological differences. There is simply no way their skulls can be variations on a single blueprint. There are obvious features that they seem to have in common with each other, and with other gargoyles, that help begin to identify the common origin of their morphologies. The way their lower limbs are designed, their tails and their abdomens seem consistent. But their wings are definitely not. These could _never be_ cosmetic distinctions. These are major structural differences. The way their wings connect would necessitate completely different musculature in their upper bodies, and that, in turn, would require differences in their skeletons to provide structure for the different muscle insertions.

When you add Una and Zafiro to this picture, everything we know about the morphology of species is thrown out the window. I couldn't look at this group and reasonably expect that they even have the same number of vertebrae, let alone be members of the same species. They are unlike anything in nature. But that's not bad. It's fascinating. It gets me speculating about what cicumstances such a creature could emerge from.

One region of speculation I've been entertaining, is that if you had a species with these characteristics, it might be because their genes are arranged into a hierarchy which is different from other organisms.There could be a level of organization to the passing down of their genes beyond just sexual recombination. I'm wondering if genes could be organized into a hierarchy of sets of discrete packages. Sort of like a kit of parts. So that their genes might actually contain blueprints for morphologies for each organ, but have these blueprints disassociated from one another.

From a gene's eye view, it might appear that they were not using gargoyles as a vehicle to perpetuate themselves, but rather, a certain variety of gargoyle tails. Or a certain variety of gargoyle skulls. And each package of genes was pursuing it's reproductive agenda independently of the others, even while multiple packages end up becoming the blueprint for a single gargate.

So I'm thinking... maybe... if external pressures can be a determinant in how genes get expressed in an animal, leading to different tissue distribution in a persons nose or something, then maybe external pressures can have an effect on which "package" gets used for a tail or a set of horns in gargates. Maybe the spiked ball on the end of that clones tail (assuming I was not imagining it) is an alternate package for a tail structure which is as much a part of Lexington as the one we're used to seeing.

The point is that for tissue to take on structure as sophisticated as a spiked ball or a pair of ibex like horns, there would need to something predicating it. It couldn't just happen by accident. So I would be inclined to suppose that some feature of gargate physiology is responsible for such major morphological changes, when cloned, and that their physiology would be unique in that the expression of genes for such radical changes are as much a matter of chance as the extremely minor variations other organisms are subject to.

I have not even begun to consider how a species can exhibit morphological features which seem to be specific replicas of other creatures which they are not related to. How do you get a lion headed gargoyle?

That's sure to be an interesting thought experiment.

Greg responds...

And I'll be very interested to read what you come up with on the subject. Your posts are always fascinating. I love your "package" explanation. As I'm sure you know, I'm no scientist, but Sevarius is... so when he says the discoloration is a result of the age acceleration process, I tend to want to believe him (at least when he has no motivation to lie).

And another thought to keep in mind is that Brentwood was aged beyond Lex's age. Would Lex start to look more like Brentwood as he aged? Don't know, frankly.

But the other physical differences in the clones, as well as the multiple physical differences between gargoyles both inter-clan and intra-clan is nicely explained by the package-theory.

Good fun work!

Response recorded on April 01, 2005