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The methods described in pages are a theoretical discussion ONLY. Methods are discussed in only the broadest terms and I hold no qualifications in the fields discussed.
Because a method is listed here does not indicate that I approve or recommend it. In some cases, I definitely don't!

Of all the technological methods used in transformation fiction, surely the most popular is nanotechnology, or nanotech for short. Though the term covers many fields of micro-miniature science, it is usually construed to mean the employment of self-replicating, molecule-sized robots which can re-engineer matter at a sub-cellular level.

A nanometer, by the way, is 0.000000001 of a meter (one billionth) and according to Wikipedia on the subject, to put that measurement in perspective, if a nanometer were scaled up to a meter, a glass marble would be planet-sized. The smallest known biological cell is 200nm across.

Fictionally, the process usually relies on a nanovirus: a small quantity of nano-machines that when injected or ingested, immediately start replicating themselves like a virus (re-engineering body cells into replicas of themselves) or like bacteria (using raw material to build active copies). Inbuilt programming would limit this growth to prevent the dreaded "Grey Goo" scenario. The second function of these machines would be to rebuild the body from a cellular scale. DNA material would be re-written (something viruses do anyway) and macro-structures such as bones, muscles, nerves, and organs would be altered molecule by molecule. Because such huge quantities of nano-machines would be involved, the process would be quite fast: think about how fast some illnesses can incubate and cause the sufferer to feel unwell.

At the moment, nanotech is strictly the province of science-fiction. The practical difficulties to be overcome in creating such devices are staggering. To be effective, the virus would have to be tailored to an individual, or be capable of dedicating itself to an individual upon activation (I like this one - it opens the door to so many stories about scientists accidentally splashing themselves). Replication must be strictly limited: not only could the subject be overwhelmed by unrestricted replication, clogging veins and blocking nerves, but the building materials for new nano-machines have to come from somewhere. If we're going to turn a human into a horse, we're going to need a huge influx of raw material from somewhere. In many stories, the transformee is compelled to eat non-stop to fuel the change. I suppose intravenous feeds could work, but the replicating machines would need to invade the entire body and work without interrupting the numerous complex life-support processes of the body. Indeed, they would need to actually alter these systems without stopping them. Imagine working on a car's engine which is running!

The intelligence of the devices would need to be profound. A precise biological map would be needed to ensure the transformation proceeded on course: the heart must continue to _be_ a heart for example. How will the spine lengthen to produce a tail? How will the nerves be formed and linked to where they must go? Very, very difficult stuff, and requiring of a much more profound understanding of biology than we currently possess.

Is this technique an impossibility then? Well, not necessarily. Consider a tadpole transforming into a frog. Transformations occur in nature: it undeniably is possible for a creature to change into another. We just need to learn how.

Wikipedia Entry on nanotechnology.
Wikipedia Entry on the Grey Goo scenario - unregulated molecular nanotechnology.
NanoWerk A site offering news and a hub to various nanotechnology projects.

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