Two discoveries/inventions that define the Dragon Age is the lotus plasmid and genetic editing, together defining the field of neogenetics.
The Lotus Plasmid
The lotus plasmid was first announced in the massive patent and trademark claims of Ikhwan Bioassay, Omicron Developments and Synbionics July 15 2035, at the early phase of the Socotra Crisis. In the press releases it was described as a novel way of modifying the genes of adult organisms by exploiting the unique properties of a certain class of small DNA-RNA fragments. Within a few days it was clear that it was closely related to the up until then unknown means used by the terrorist group Black Lotus in the Canton Crisis and Cambodia Incident 2034. This led to the popular name for the plasmid, although strictly speaking it is not a plasmid but a DNA-ribozyme complex.
The lotus plasmid is able to edit the genome of any cell, and acts as an extremely efficient genetic vector. It appears that it exploits a previously unknown and unsuspected property of DNA coiling (the so-called emergent ribozyme coil), becoming essentially a kind of genetic backdoor. Receptors for the plasmid have been found with 100% conservation in all terrestrial life, apparently encoded in some of the “emergent genes” that are just now discovered. Once a cell has received the plasmid message, it relays it to neighbours through adhesion bridges.
Although patent claims were filed, this was mostly symbolic and to announce that the involved parties possessed detailed knowledge of the plasmid (the claims would not have been regarded as valid in most jurisdictions anyway). Since then the field of neogenetics has expanded tremendously, as partnerships and independent works to understand and exploit the lotus plasmid has become the hottest investment field in history. Even without genetic editing through hosts with AM growths, it has made gene therapy orders of magnitude more efficient. The properties of emergent ribozymes and the lotus plasmid have been compared to genetic nanotechnology.
Work is underway of developing immunity to the lotus plasmid, but so far no efficient methods have been found. Although antibodies can easily be developed, the spread through tissue is pervasive and the immune system is often one of the earliest organ systems to be affected. The existence of such a complex system as the emergent ribozymes has led many to conclude that terrestrial genetics has been deliberately adapted (or created); fitness landscape and mutagenesis studies show that it is not possible to evolve it. Since it is closely associated with the dragons, the general assumption is that it is their creation.
Another area where much research is being done is the reliable detection and analysis of lotus plasmids. Similar genetic fragments appear to be ubiquitious in the biosphere, making it hard to detect plasmids of human origin. Once a particular plasmid has been analysed it is fairly simple to device a sniffer to signal its presence, but detection of larger classes or traces of certain host individuals have been less successful. The field is under fast development, and it is expected that efficient sniffing will be feasible within a few years.
The AM growth (first named after A.M., the first host) is a heavily modified tissue that usually grows on the ventral side of the brain. It has many properties similar to an endocrine gland like the pituiary, but the cells are mainly modified neurons and interface heavily with the brain. It enables the host to design, produce and react to lotus plasmids. The way this is achieved remains enigmatic. Well developed hosts are able to not just modify their own bodies but also affect others by the plasmids in their breath and bodily fluids.
The AM growth is initiated by infection by the “dragon pearl plasmid”, a lotus plasmid encoding a very complex genetic program that in some hosts lead to the development of the AM growth. Epidemological studies have shown that the likelihood of a growth depends on individual genetic variation, lack of prion vaccinations and immune function. The growth is very similar to a gliome, and can cause headaches, nausea and hallucinations merely by its physical location. There is also a crisis once the production of lotus plasmids begins, as the immune system will react in an autoimmune way.
There is much research on genetic editing through neurocomputers. This would avoid the risks of having human infected by the still largely mysterious plasmid and would enable technological control. The results have however been mixed, with some laboratories reporting no success and others demonstrating significant results.
The Dragons define this age, even without being near. Their looming presence affects culture worldwide. People are trying to come to terms with the realisations that we are not alone, that the aliens are more alien than anything imagined and that by the end of the century, the Dragons may be the dominant species.
The first public emergence of a Dragon was the Socotra Crisis in July-August 2035. In front of billions of viewers a seamonster dubbed “the Kraken” attacked the bioislands outside Socotra, killing 1283 people and destroying property worth hundreds of billions of dollars. During the struggle against the Kraken the lotus plasmid was first used, and at one point it appeared that it had succeeded in neutralising the lifeform. But apparently this just enabled the Dragons to fully involve themselves: in a massive oil upwelling and restructuring the remnants of the Kraken became the seed of the first “dragon castle”. A few months later similar dragon castles were emerging around nearby islands, and since then they have spread further into the Indian Ocean.
Commonly Dragons refer to the dragon castles, but the actual entities are more nebulous. According to revelations from various sources such as NERD, Omicron Developments, Siripong Siripool and many others the true form of the Dragons is ecological networks in the lithosphere, employing plasmid interactions instead of neural activity. The dragon castles are simply efficient “bodies” for the dragons to control
Dragon castles are enormous structures, the result of the fusion of many millions of tons of biomass. As far as we know, they emerge from seedling creatures. Seedlings are independent creatures, little more than larvae equipped with glands producing large amounts of plasmids. The seedlings swim or fly away from the parent castle, seeking out dense concentrations of biomass. There they infect/assimilate local life, creating the typical sessile web of a first stage colony. As the web grows, it absorbs more and more biomass and become more motile. Second stage colonies have grown to the size of a few hundred meters and are capable of devising new bioforms to suit their purposes. Third stage colonies have absorbed practically all available biomass, and begin to take on the adult form. The previous webwork develops into a skeletal framework, covered with energy providing “kelp” and equipped with massive siphons to filter seawater. The emerging castle rises to the sea surface and at the same time sends down roots deep into the seafloor, making contact with the local Dragons.
A typical dragon castle consists of a bone, chitin, cellulose or cartilage skeleton, covered with other organs. Most of the structure is actually empty space, filled with water or gas. Nutrient and water vessels extend along the skeleton, transporting nutrients and plasmids to all parts and piping filtered water from one level to another. Underwater, the view of a dragon castle is dominated by enormous siphons filtering seawater for more building materials and energy. Apparently a major energy source of many castles is a biological form of OTEC, where cold deep water is pumped upward and the energy gradient exploited. The water also provides nutrients for the typical algae blooms surrounding the castles. The algae apparently act as energy and nutrient collectors, and are often controlled by long filament extending from the castle proper. The surface is often covered with variants of biotech bamboo not unlike the standard industrial bamboo used on bioislands (much of the components are directly copied from the islands digested in the Socotra Crisis).
Dragon islands send down extensive roots into the ground, likely to connect to the lithosphere Dragons. The presence of oil or other energy rich hydrocarbon deposits is exploited; in several cases the islands dig their own oil or gas wells, apparently extracting energy and nutrients by extensive chambers of modified bacteria.
Inside the bones and special structures are human-derived neural materials. It appears that there are many different neural systems, both extensive neural networks showing signs of distributed intelligence, thick neural trunks maintaining internal communications, spine- and brain-like growths in the bones and the deep and well protected neurocomputer-like clusters that likely house the main intelligence. The surface of the structure contains sensory organs borrowed from across the animal kingdom, giving it enormous sensory input bandwidth. Several observations of long-range filaments conatining neurons extending along the seafloor towards other castles have been observed, suggesting that the castles attempt to set up fast communications links.
Dragon castles also contain extensive glands for producing plasmids, usually in close connection with the neural clusters. These glands, apparently giant Masterton growths, produce plasmids used both for reprogramming and reshaping the castle, assimilating more biomass and the long-range spread in seawater.