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Competition No 3891

Set by Valerie Yule, 18 July

Designer babies: you were asked to design a human that might best survive the environmental challenges ahead.

Report by Ms de Meaner

£20 to the winners, with Tesco vouchers going to M E Ault for added excellence.

We call our prototype: the modified camel person (MCP). It has taken 50 years to develop and can withstand long periods of water shortage thanks to two key adaptations: 1) its self-cleaning skin, which exudes pine-scented, antiseptic sweat; 2) it is able to retain water in gender-specific storage sacs. The MCP can withstand extremes of heat by developing deep skin wrinkles that extend the amount of skin surface in contact with the air. An unfortunate side effect in hot conditions is that the skin tends to turn orange. MCPs usually claim they've been sunbathing in the garden, but we are investigating a possible psychological cause: an aversion to the idea of turning brown. There are other, more worrying flaws: the inclination to form unsuitable friendships with megalomaniacs and the belief, despite evidence to the contrary, that the MCP is always right. We are confident these faults can be rectified.

M E Ault

Homo nextus will be thick-skinned and his scalp covered with titanium-coated PET to reflect UV and excessive solar radiation. His circulatory system will contain ethylene glycol to act as 1) a coolant and 2) an antifreeze. He will be able to breathe carbon dioxide. We need to be careful here, though: he could start photosynthesising and turn green. He will have dorsal and lateral fins to deal with rising sea levels. He will have internal membranes for desalination of sea water. His farting output will be lowered substantially to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Night vision will enable him to see through clouds of volcanic ash. He will have an acute sense of humour.

Sid Field

No mustard-coloured paste in your GM designer infant's nappy, just a few neat pellets - like dried rabbit dung - so inoffensive that you can happily crumble them over your home-grown lettuces. His skin is coffee-brown, with sufficient melanin to protect him from UV damage, now the ozone layer is depleted. He is chubby, his extra layer of fat keeping him warm now fossil fuels are done and we're all carbon-emission careful. His metabolism is efficient, his digestive system a geneticist's marvel. Adult man is now entirely herbivorous. He has no appetite for sugar or salt. An additional forestomach allows him to digest cellulose as cattle did. He labours at his workstation, continuously munching vegetable matter, for eight hours daily. Travel? Exercise? Entertainment? Like any other ruminant, he doesn't even think of them.

Anne Du Croz

No 3894 Set by Josh Ekroy

A quark is a name given to a type of particle that goes to make up protons and neutrons. The word was taken by the theoretical physicist Murray Gellman from Finnegans Wake. What other literary neologisms might have a scientific application? Provide one, with explanation of its function.

Max 150 words by 18 August. E-mail:

This article first appeared in the 08 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Islam: the tide of change