June 15, 2010 – Vampire Physiology 101

I had a thought while driving to school one morning: I haven’t yet told anyone how my vampires work.  I’ve gone over their traits, but not why they have those traits.  How does a human become a vampire on the cellular level?  Oh yeah, I’ve got an answer for that.  Thankfully for my future book readers, I do not go into much detail of the how’s and why’s in the first book, but for a blog post, why not?  (Okay, two blog posts; by the time I was actually done with this, I decided it was much too long for only one day.)

To understand vampires, it’s best to have an understanding of viruses, because vampirism is caused by an unusual type of virus.  (By the way, I got the idea for this from the book The Great Influenza which had all kinds of good information in it on exactly how a virulent flu virus works.)  The vampire virus works similarly to the flu (namely the 1918 H1N1 strain), but unlike the flu, it does not cause cellular damage which kills its host. 

The vampire virus actually forms a symbiotic relationship with its host because it requires its host’s consent to spread.  Flu spreads through water droplets which are expelled from the nose or mouth, and it survives very well outside the body.  HIV is spread primarily through sexual contact (also through blood and from mother to baby), although it does not survive well outside the body (which is why you can’t catch it from doorknobs, like the flu). 

Vampirism is spread only through blood-to-blood contact, and does not survive very well outside the body.  Flu has evolved to take advantage of the fact that humans are social creatures and are in close proximity to one another frequently.  HIV has evolved to take advantage of the fact that humans like to have sex.  The vampire virus, however, cannot spread itself without its host’s consent (presumably it’s noticeable if you give someone else your blood). 

The vampire virus gives vampires some benefits, which is why it’s considered a symbiotic relationship.  Vampires, for instance, do not die of natural causes, and are very hard to kill because they have great regenerative powers.  This is, of course, in the virus’s best interest.  A dead host cannot transfer the virus to anyone else.  The longer the host lives, the more likely the virus is to spread. 

While vampires can make other people vampires through a blood transfusion, the normal way is to allow a human to drink their blood.  The blood is absorbed through the stomach lining and goes into the bloodstream (the same way you absorb alcohol), thus creating blood-to-blood transference (even though, in reality, it’s more like blood-to-stomach-to-blood).  When the vampire’s blood gets into the human’s bloodstream, the virus takes immediate action.  It attacks human blood cells and gets inside them.  There it merges its RNA with the host’s DNA, rewriting parts of it, before replicating itself and spreading.  It can completely take over a body in a matter of minutes.  The host’s heart and lungs will stop functioning as the virus takes over the last of the cells, and then the virus will actually cause the heart to restart.  It’s kind of like a hostile takeover, where all business stops as the new owners come in and start setting things up their way.  And when everything’s in place, the new owners start the business up again. 

If a human were to have a DNA profile created, and then have another one made after he became a vampire, some of the DNA markers would be the same.  For instance, hair color, eye color and height do not change.  Sex doesn’t change, and neither does being left-handed or right-handed.  But other things change, the most noticeable being the absence of the DNA marker which causes cell aging.

Anyone who has ever made a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy knows that picture quality deteriorates.  Human cells work in a similar fashion, each cell copy being not quite as perfect as the one before, and that’s how variations creep in which will eventually produce a cell unable to function (which is when you die of old age).  It is thought now, however, that there is actually something hard-wired into our DNA which causes cells to not make perfect replicas of themselves.  Of course, when you’re a child growing up, you need the ability to age and have things change.  But that never gets turned off, so the aging process continues until deat

Scientists are already working on figuring out how to turn that marker off so that our cells will make perfect copies of themselves and we can live much longer (even forever).  My vampires, however, already have that ability.  The RNA from the vampire virus gets rid of that marker, so people cease to age.  But the virus doesn’t undo what’s already there, so you can’t grow younger; the cells just start producing perfect copies of themselves from that moment forward.

The virus also does other things, such as turning off reproductive hormones.  Women’s ovaries are not stimulated to make new eggs mature and men’s testes are not stimulated to create new sperm.  This is why vampires are sterile (also why they do not have as much sex drive as the average human, although they can get lustful when they get hungry). 

Of course, there is a question of whether or not either of them could be given hormones, so that their fertility is restored, but it’s a question that most vampires don’t want to know the answer to, since no one would know what sort of child would be born from a vampire-human or vampire-vampire union.  It’s unlikely that any conception involving vampire DNA would be viable, since cell aging is turned off (it would make it impossible for a fetus to mature).  Also, vampires are technically a different species, and it’s unlikely their DNA would even be able to merge in a viable way with a human’s (for the same reason why you can’t have a chimp/human hybrid, despite the DNA of both being 95% the same).

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