Of Space and Bachelor’s Degrees Chapter 95

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XCV

Richard found it odd that a master’s degree didn’t make him a master. On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree didn’t make him a bachelor- it was completely unrelated. Only a doctorate made you a doctor. As for the others… well, Richard had no idea where the terms came from. Perhaps one might be a bachelor or bachelorette while studying at the initial level, but perhaps not. At the early graduate level, one could indeed be considered a master of some kind, but it didn’t seem like it fit into an overall progression.

He wouldn’t have to worry about that for too long, because soon enough he would have a doctorate and become a doctor. Except, of course, while he would be a doctor, he still wouldn’t be a doctor. At the very least, he wouldn’t be qualified as a medical doctor- quite. A doctorate in genetic engineering was actually quite close to medical, but with a lot less emphasis on treating patients in a traditional sense. While genetic engineering sometimes led to treatment methods, those were never the first options taken into consideration. If diet or medicine or even surgery could handle it, those were better options in most cases. Only well established gene treatments where all of the side effects had been catalogued and studied were considered safe. While drugs also had side effects, those could usually be ceased by ceasing to take them, but genetic alteration was usually propagated throughout the body, and was not easily undone.

Sometimes, though, genetic treatment was exactly what was necessary. When something affected an entire species, it was more likely than not a genetic problem, though in rare cases diseases and viruses had spread to almost the entire population of certain species. As for the Noxians, genetic engineering seemed like the only way to save them. Their population was still in decline, and the population numbers were already concerning. They weren’t in danger of dying out within the next several generations- unless their rate of decay worsened- which it was doing, merely offset by certain advances.

—–

Richard’s thesis was based around plants. That wasn’t where he intended to go in the future, but it was something he could safely study. Not that plants were always safe, but he could avoid working with poisonous ones. More important were the moral aspects. Richard felt more comfortable making a strange hybrid plant, and even if it ended up dying because it was poorly made. With animals, he would have to start with how individual cells might work with changes to their genetics. Insects would be a possibility- they were small and had low cognitive functions- but he couldn’t think of anything good that would come from that without a specific purpose.

Thus, he stuck to plants. He worked on hybrids, but also improving specific traits such as fruit output. He even had proper equipment to work with, which helped. He didn’t particularly do anything that hadn’t been done before- people had been genetically engineering the food supply by selective breeding since the beginning of agriculture, and actual genetic engineering wasn’t new either. Still, Richard had a good feeling for what traits could work from other plants.

There were always limits to what could be done. Given a certain amount of resources, a plant could only do so much. Some plants might fare better than others in environments low on water or with less nutrients in the soil, but they were still limited to a certain size. A plant that thrived in swamps wouldn’t just be small and shrivelled in a desert, it wouldn’t live at all… and conversely, with too much water most desert plants wouldn’t survive, especially not in competition with others.

Atmosphere was another factor in plant survival. Most of a plant’s mass was obtained from the air, with the nutrients in the soil providing essentials in smaller quantity. On Xevaron, there was higher than average gravity and a denser atmosphere. Thus, plants had to be stronger to support their own weight. Some trees had wider trunks, but most of the foliage ended up being lower to the ground so that it didn’t have to support its own weight. The plants survived more by being tougher to chew, but in turn that meant animals who survived had to be able to eat tougher plants- or animals who ate tougher plants. The Xevaronians themselves somehow avoided being short and squat, and their bodies could even function in environments with less dense atmospheres. They had sensitive noses because fewer particles transferred through the air in their native environment- or at least it helped. It wasn’t actually easy to say why things or people had certain traits, only to point out how they were advantageous. There could have been other possibilities, but that was not how things were.

Richard worked on many things, but his final product was merely interesting, if not generally useful. Richard produced a vine that only had air roots- it didn’t rely on soil to absorb any nutrients or water. This meant that it could only survive with particular atmospheric compositions and a certain range of humidity. However, given such an environment, all it needed was a structure to grow on, with no need for soil of any kind. In the end, though it was an interesting plant, it was ultimately pointless. It was also very sensitive to changes in atmosphere and humidity, with another critical flaw. Though it could grow on a horizontal surface, when leaves or part of the vine died, they would smother the plant as they decayed into dirt. This was a very slow process, so it could be avoided with any amount of attention to the plant, but the only real benefit they had was that they generally wouldn’t need attention. Still, if they grew up a wall or a trellis the dead parts would eventually fall to the ground. In the end, the vine was only suited to laboratory environments and rare atmospheres. In the end, the result merely showed some technical skills and inventiveness.

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