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39 star

Sandra and Sally manoeuvred into the office. Sally went first, wheeling the enormous infant stroller. She was haggard with sleep deprivation, temper frayed by the last two weeks of sleepless nights, and when the stroller unexpectedly veered into the door she snapped.

“This stupid thing! Cost us two thousand, and the wheels don’t even – ”

Sandra cut her off with a sharp “Quiet! You’ll wake Vinnie”.

Sandra carried baby Vincent in a sling. He was prone to wake up early when sleeping on Sally, the smell of milk tempting him awake. Not that I smell any better, thought Sandra with disgust, faintly nauseous at the smell of sour milk wafting up from the baby. Still, she smiled with love when she looked down, so adorable. At least, when he wasn’t screaming.

It was ten minutes before the Professor entered. Thinning hair streaked with white and leathery skin indicated his age, yet he seemed positively buoyant as he entered. “I have great news for you, your son is going to be a Star37!”

Sally and Sandra looked up in shock. “Like… a Brain?”, Sally said.

“Yes, like a Brain”, the Professor laughed softly, using his fingers to put air-quotes around the last word. “Your son carries the DRB1*3:37 allele, plus autoimmune susceptibility alleles at PTPN22, CD25 and half a dozen others. It would be even better if he was female, but this is just a beautiful genome to induce autoimmunity!”

“So, he has a lot of genes for intelligence?” Sally asked.

“No my dear”, drawled the Professor, patronizingly. “Being a Star37 goes far beyond the range of normal human intelligence. Every human brain has a small set of neurons, called Ent1 positive neurons, that work to suppress our intellect. You must understand that during our evolution, intelligence was an asset, but sometimes we needed to run on instinct. When a sabre-toothed tiger jumps out at you, you don’t want a detailed analysis of the risk profile, you want your body to take over on instinct. The Ent1 positive neurons are responsible for suppressing intellect at these times, letting our animal brains take over. The problem is, they also cause a baseline suppression of our intelligence – so if we can remove them the potential intellect increase is amazing. We now suspect that scientists like Einstein and Newton were lacking these neurons – and your son could be the next Einstein!”

 “So does this mean the donor was a Brain?” Sandra asked.

“Probably not, the father –”

“Donor”, said Sally under her breath.

“must have carried the *37 allele, since it is not in your genome. But *37 just means you have the right TCR repertoire to initiate an autoimmune reaction against Ent1. By itself there is only a 2-3% chance of destroying the Ent1 positive neurons, we really need defects in immune tolerance genes to have a good chance of initiating a strong enough immune response. And those genes, my dear, are from you. Tell me, does anyone in your family have autoimmunity?”

He directed the question at Sandra, but Sally cut in. “I’m the biological mother. My brother has Multiple Sclerosis, is that autoimmunity?”

“Multiple Sclerosis! Delightful, how perfect!”

“That’s horrible! You haven’t seen how Paul has suffered, how can you laugh at that! Is Vinnie going to catch Multiple Sclerosis too?”

“No no, I’m sorry my dear, yes it is a tragedy for your brother, but don’t you see, this means the world for your son! He is really just an ideal candidate for immune conversion therapy.”

“This won’t cause any damage to Vinnie, will it?”, Sally worried.

 “We don’t exactly have sabre-tooth tigers running around, and would you rather your son be decent at sports and music, or a genius?  There are some minor downsides, like a decreased libido, but nothing I wouldn’t give up in a heartbeat! Look, let me give you some pamphlets. You have plenty of time to get use to the idea. We don’t start the autoimmune reaction until puberty anyway, too much risk of neuronal plasticity replacing the lost function.”


40 years later, Vincent was in a reflective mood. He had led a fairly normal childhood. Most children with the DRB1*3:37 allele were sent to intense training prior to immune conversion therapy, paid for by venture capitalists in return for a 1% cut of future earnings. His mothers had decided that if he was going to be a Brain anyway, better for them to focus on teaching him compassion and empathy, so he had gone to a local school and had spent weekends volunteering for a dozen different charities. Their final lesson in ethics had been to give him the choice, at 12 years old, of whether to undergo treatment or not. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had decided the other way? It was a musing he had had a hundred times before, but today at least the answer was clear. I’m happy, so I must have made the right choice.

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