Image from Bernd Helfert

The kelp forests of the Phihigh sea were so lush that from orbit they made the archipelago look like a continent. Every day I'd swim from one island to another, relishing the abundance of life we'd created. Swarms had geosculpted the region into an oceanic plateau with an average depth a little over a meter, once that task was complete they'd seeded it with a neogenic ecosystem according to our specific designs. My own contribution to the project seemed modest compared to the shoals of hoopers or the migrating coral that formed the foundation of a thousand islands. Nevertheless my brightbushes could be found all over the seafloor providing a vital ecological role. They somewhat resembled a terrestrial dandelion head, though with hundreds of flexible, finger-width polyps rather than seeds. Small aquatic animals swam through their fronds in mating rituals before anchoring their spores close to the center.

The polyps continually grew from their ends, adjusting their surface pigment with each new stretch according to a chaotic metabolic circuit. The result was as striking as I'd hoped with each hemispherical bush displaying a different pattern and pallet. I'd designed them using the standard carbohydrate replicator for the terraforming project but had also engineered a fifth of their proteins to synthesize each other through prionic cascades independent of the genome. I'd won an award for the beauty of that system. Our models predicted a stability for that trait of only a few thousand years but couldn't reliably guess what evolutionary paths they might take.

At a size of 50cm or so the mechanical strength of each polyp reached a point where a strong wave could tear it from the brightbush. I'd designed this with input from the oceaneers; too weak and they'd break off prematurely but too strong and they'd overgrow and choke the ecosystem. A torn free polyp was a sight to behold. Immediately upon breaking epidermal membrane pumps would expel their pigment in a powerful jet of rainbow ink. This nourished micro-organisms whilst propelling and hiding the polyp from predators that fed on the now vulnerable spores. It would then drift on the sea, carrying its clutch of spores. Most would die off or be eaten but a small number would drift to a quiet, empty patch of the floor to anchor and start growing anew.

Excerpt from Tyrol's Travel Notes: Interviews with neogenicists.

Gengineered life forms are a common feature of habitats throughout the Civilized Galaxy, from the myriad biological clades and their modified ecosystems to wholly synthetic mechosystems. Not satisfied with one particular phenotype Terragen kind has always sought diversity in its physical (not to mention virtual) forms. Sitting on, and often straddling the line between radical tweaks (significantly engineered bionts derived from evolved species) and moravecs (rationally designed nanomechanical/electrical beings) are neogens; biological organisms designed de novo using biochemical processes and parts not otherwise seen in "natural" life forms. As with the cyborg clades, neogens have often been difficult to pin down as a category of terragen life. The extent of their novelty compared to evolved organisms is a spectrum rather than a hard border and throughout history and culture whether or not an organism is counted as a tweak, mechosystem or neogen has varied. However, there are some commonalities in definitions that have held roughly consistent across time and space:

- Neogenic organisms are bottom up, emergent systems. Unlike many (but not all) vec and biobot designs neogenic life is the result of a complex interplay of thousands of biochemical molecules.

- Neogenic organisms have no significant overlap in genetic, metabolic or other fundamental biochemical processes AND/OR components with naturally evolved life

Even within these definitions much disagreement can be found. Early neogens were often the product of so-called "synthetic biology" which used standard terragen biochemistry with processes derived from a variety of disparate sources and little in the way of novel biological structures. In some parts of the terragen sphere many vec clades are considered neogenic if the majority of their processes operate under principles of emergent mechanochemistry, regardless of any core top-down systems. Comparison to bots and vecs also extends to taxonomy as neogens lack an organisational lineage that can aid in assigning a higher-order clade or phyle. A less difficult option is for neogens to be classed by the biochemistry of their genetic molecule, the most common being: P (polypeptides), C (carbohydrates), N (nucleic acids), O (polyoxomolybdates) and S (silicones). Even amongst these there is great diversity (such as DNA, RNA, GNA, TNA and LNA, all variants of N-replicators that have a plethora of viable forms each) in addition to the vast landscape of possibilities for basic biomolecules with which to form self-sustaining metabolisms.

As with provolution neogen projects also have a wider technological and social component, for example: a neogenic clade template is likely to be incompatible with the majority of medical and augmentic technology (let alone mundanities such as environmental configurations, transport infrastructure and hygiene protocols). Designing appropriate interfaces and substitutions where possible is often a task greater than the neogenic project such developments are for, an issue compounded exponentially when entire ecosystems are constructed. As such it is considered good practice across the Sephirotics for neogenicists and adopters of neogenic clades to ensure full biological data and environmental/technological needs are logged in a public archive (for those wishing to travel whilst wearing a neogen clade body it is strongly advised such data is carried in one's exoself).

Like any herculean R&D task in the terragen sphere the design of neogenic life and development of its extended phenotypic needs can be relegated easily to automated systems. However, like provolution neogenics is a hobby more often left out of the hands of automation than not (though less so the ancillary work). Designing a new organism or clade is an accomplishment of note and respect in much of the civilised galaxy, especially within the Zoefic Biopolity, and neogenic biospheres for terraformed planets are frequently held up as inter-cultural monuments, often to the extent that they are offered protectorate status by the otherwise aloof Caretaker Gods.

Related Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev

Initially published on 09 December 2001.

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