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small axe
04-27-2009, 07:05 AM
Okay, I hear a lot the common defense of the idea that humans are natural products of natural evolution (no room for ET interbreeding etc) ...

Based on the claim/fact that "humans are 97% genetically identical to chimps"
and
all (living) Earth creatures are descended from a common ancestor (one shared instance of Life beginning) because of everything's close genetic similarities, how we share genetic traits with an oak tree and a starfish, etc ...

eta: Please no arguments for or against Creationism here, okay? :) Askin' about genetics!

Can someone clarify two points though, please?

Does any fact in known genetics rule out that the "3%" or so genetic difference between Man and ape (stoopid monkey!) couldn't have arisen due to ET manipulation of existing lower ape DNA?

I'm not suggesting that aliens can "speed up" normal evolution, which I know depends on supposedly random mutation and environmental adaptation.

But could an advanced genetic technology look at apes, see a DNA trait that is "trending towards" Intelligence, and -- using only Earth DNA -- "boost" that genetic trait towards certain brain forms that allow for HUMAN intelligence?

Choose and accelerate a trend that might be otherwise lost by the intervening 1,000,000 years of hit-and-miss mutation and natural selection?

And would that "leap" be in any way visible to us now, after the fact?

Also, (issue #2) would there be any way to see if current life resulted from an interbreeding of TWO forms of life that originated separately?

What would either point to those events, or rule them out ... genetically?

Anything?

Mac H.
04-27-2009, 07:26 AM
It would be impossible to rule out genetically, simply because you could always claim that the aliens deliberately gave the exact appearance of natural selection.

It is possible that the deposit of bird poop I found on my car after parking under a tree was really put there by aliens.

The aliens were very clever, you see, and made sure the waste products they deposited on my car were identical to naturally occurring bird poop.

Yes, logically I can't 100% eliminate the 'the bird poop was really put there by a flying saucer' hypothesis, but it would seem odd that it looks totally like something naturally occurring !!

Mac

small axe
04-27-2009, 10:54 AM
Point taken. But I'm not meaning to delve into fringe conspiracy or cosmic illusion, either.

Genetic-sciences speaking

(and speculating on advanced science beyond ours, but something short of Arthur C. Clarke's "Science so advanced we think it's magic" etc) ...

Could science take existing trends, and extrapolate/refine them in the specific direction of "bigger brains" or "This little bump in a lemur is trending towards a pre-frontal lobe, so let's promote THAT development and make Intelligence."

Not adding any "alien" DNA, just ... building clever new things with the DNA already there?

How far back might you go and still say "See these fins in bony fish? We can accelerate those and make them legs" or look at a clumsy ape thumb and say "We can engineer that into a tool-using grip"

How much of genetics is predictable, and how much is: That gene can become either human ear or a dolphin sonar in a million years ... or neither, because it takes a million years underwater and a thousand other random accidents along the way to make either one?

I know what the EASY answer is: We can't know.
I guess I'm wondering what the issues would be ...

Same with Life originating.
Someone was telling me VIRUSES could be the descendents of a second origin of Life ... and that there's absolutely NO reason we couldn't find other lifeforms underground or in the deep sea that simply have NO COMMON ANCESTOR to any other Life on Earth. Started separate and has lived off in its own little biosphere all along.

I mean ... nobody decontaminates themselves like astronauts after a deep sea dive or drilling for deep sea oil, right?

Some evil unknown plague germ could just be waiting to come up for air. "Thanks for letting us out of that deep cavern, Surface guys!:) Time to die!"

Some TV show was suggesting the surface Life of the Earth might have been killed off many times, and Life keeps emerging from the survivors who retreat deep underground, mutate, and come back out.

Higgins
04-27-2009, 06:43 PM
Point taken. But I'm not meaning to delve into fringe conspiracy or cosmic illusion, either.

Genetic-sciences speaking

(and speculating on advanced science beyond ours, but something short of Arthur C. Clarke's "Science so advanced we think it's magic" etc) ...

Could science take existing trends, and extrapolate/refine them in the specific direction of "bigger brains" or "This little bump in a lemur is trending towards a pre-frontal lobe, so let's promote THAT development and make Intelligence."

Not adding any "alien" DNA, just ... building clever new things with the DNA already there?

How far back might you go and still say "See these fins in bony fish? We can accelerate those and make them legs" or look at a clumsy ape thumb and say "We can engineer that into a tool-using grip"

How much of genetics is predictable, and how much is: That gene can become either human ear or a dolphin sonar in a million years ... or neither, because it takes a million years underwater and a thousand other random accidents along the way to make either one?

I know what the EASY answer is: We can't know.
I guess I'm wondering what the issues would be ...

Same with Life originating.
Someone was telling me VIRUSES could be the descendents of a second origin of Life ... and that there's absolutely NO reason we couldn't find other lifeforms underground or in the deep sea that simply have NO COMMON ANCESTOR to any other Life on Earth. Started separate and has lived off in its own little biosphere all along.

I mean ... nobody decontaminates themselves like astronauts after a deep sea dive or drilling for deep sea oil, right?

Some evil unknown plague germ could just be waiting to come up for air. "Thanks for letting us out of that deep cavern, Surface guys!:) Time to die!"

Some TV show was suggesting the surface Life of the Earth might have been killed off many times, and Life keeps emerging from the survivors who retreat deep underground, mutate, and come back out.

Why would you need aliens to intervene? One might argue that Homo Erectus somehow pulled a rather ordinary gracile humanoid species out of the evolutionary doldrums with some specialized techniques:
1) fire
2) low sexual dimorphism
3) tools
4) keeping elderly Homo Erectus individuals around to advise them on bettering their survival.

You wouldn't need aliens, you'd just need a few brave homo erectus individuals to get things going. Then you can go from about 500 cc of brain to 1300 in about 1 million years and have fun doing it and reduce your sexual dimorphism even more.

veinglory
04-27-2009, 06:53 PM
It would be an error to think people and chimps are 97% indentical per se. this higher figure relates to genes with a broadly similar purpose. The actual gene sequences are not identical.

To think the human/chimp difference was artificial you would need to belief the agent that did it deliberately inserted junk DNA, random mutations of other gene, and dangerous genes that malfunction and cause disorders, as well as variation between genes that correlated with the geography of the human in that area? It would not be very parsimonous.

Higgins
04-27-2009, 07:13 PM
It would be an error to think people and chimps are 97% indetitcal per se. this higher figure relates to genes with a broadly similar purpose. The actual gene sequences are not identical.

To think the human/chimp difference was artificial you would need to belief the agent that did it deliberately inserted junk DNA, random mutations of other gene, and dangerous genes that malfunction and cause disorders, as well as variation between genes that correlated with the geography of the human in that area? It would not be very parsimonous.

And why would they lose a whole chromosome? That's a dead give-away if you're worried about aliens fooling crudely with your genes:

http://www.gate.net/~rwms/hum_ape_chrom.html

veinglory
04-27-2009, 07:27 PM
I suppose the whole problem is the idea human descended from chimps of very chimp like animals, the common ancestor is really quite distant and different from both.

WriteKnight
04-27-2009, 07:37 PM
"We" can't do what you propose right now. It's simply not possible with our current set of scientific skills, tools or knowledge.

But for 'fictional purposes' - just as we suppose faster than light travel 'in some form or fashion' is necessary for all of our space travel sci-fi, then sure - one can posit an alien species capable of making such mutations and hiding the evidence. We can't do faster than light travel right now either - but it doesn't stop us from writing about it.

And yes, as much as you don't want to deal with it, one man's science must be another man's 'magic' if he can't figure it out.

Lhun
04-28-2009, 02:19 AM
Okay, I hear a lot the common defense of the idea that humans are natural products of natural evolution (no room for ET interbreeding etc) ...

Based on the claim/fact that "humans are 97% genetically identical to chimps"
and
all (living) Earth creatures are descended from a common ancestor (one shared instance of Life beginning) because of everything's close genetic similarities, how we share genetic traits with an oak tree and a starfish, etc ...Both of those are actually more fun facts than the real arguments for evolution. I could explain some of those, but better in another thread as you said. ;)

Does any fact in known genetics rule out that the "3%" or so genetic difference between Man and ape (stoopid monkey!) couldn't have arisen due to ET manipulation of existing lower ape DNA?There is no way to rule that out. Alien manipulation is an empty hypothesis because it is impossible to disprove. Whatever you might find in DNA could be explained by "aliens manufactured it that way".

I'm not suggesting that aliens can "speed up" normal evolution, which I know depends on supposedly random mutation and environmental adaptation.It's actually quite easy to speed up evolution. You can either increase the occurrence of random mutations thus increasing the chance for something beneficial to come along (use something radioactive) or you can increase selective pressure, i.e. kill of more unfit specimen. Both can only be used to a certain point of course, killing of more than will breed back might speed up evolution, but only for a short while. ;)

But could an advanced genetic technology look at apes, see a DNA trait that is "trending towards" Intelligence, and -- using only Earth DNA -- "boost" that genetic trait towards certain brain forms that allow for HUMAN intelligence?There's not really such a thing as "earth DNA" or "Alien DNA" in this context. Alien genetics might work differently (chemically or biologically) but if they're incompatible there's no way to use those.
Anyway, if the genetic technology is sufficiently advanced, you can theoretically treat it like a book: Write in it whatever you want.

Choose and accelerate a trend that might be otherwise lost by the intervening 1,000,000 years of hit-and-miss mutation and natural selection?Not really that way. You could not manipulate genes in a way to force development in a certain direction. That is determined by selection. If you want to breed intelligent apes, your best choice is to kill off the stupid ones in each generation. If you want to genetically engineer intelligent apes, you just create them.

And would that "leap" be in any way visible to us now, after the fact?If there was a "leap" in intelligence, yes, we could detect it. Doesn't look like there is a leap though. However if the aliens were to manipulate evolution on earth slowly, there'd be no way to detect that.

Also, (issue #2) would there be any way to see if current life resulted from an interbreeding of TWO forms of life that originated separately?Yes. The biggest (genetic) argument for evolution are the nested hierarchies. I.e. that way can follow the genetic map down the tree of life if you will.
We can see parts of ancient DNA in all living creatures on earth, if we were to find that the ancient parts of DNA of two creatures are completely different we could conclude that they're not from the same ancestor.

What would either point to those events, or rule them out ... genetically?Genetically, aliens manipulating is not disprovable. Only aliens manipulating in a certain way. The way DNA looks, it developed in a slow, more-or-less steady process over millions of generations, without big leaps. without totally alien parts or any other hints of manipulation. However if aliens manipulated evolution on earth, they could have done it slowly, making only small changes at a time, manipulting selection pressure more than genes, etc. There'd be no way to detect that.

small axe
04-28-2009, 02:29 AM
Why would you need aliens to intervene?

Oh, I see your issue: I guess I failed to set up the question. It's for a story idea, where they aliens DID intervene -- but I asked it in Science FACT because I thought it'd get discussion and insight as to FACTS here, rather than in the Fiction forum. Sorry if I didn't make it clearer I'm trying for valid factual insights and background in a fictional story.


To think the human/chimp difference was artificial you would need to belief the agent that did it deliberately inserted junk DNA, random mutations of other gene, and dangerous genes that malfunction and cause disorders, as well as variation between genes that correlated with the geography of the human in that area?

Yeah, details like that are what I need to ponder for background! Some sort of "this is a dead give-away that shows alien intervention happened" versus
"Well, here's something in human evolution or genetic make-up that no one would ever ever design or do on purpose" etc

Thanks Lhun too for the point by point explanation.

Guess I need to know some more to pose the question ... :)

Any other comments along those lines though?

veinglory
04-28-2009, 03:35 AM
Well as a general idea it clearly can be used, as it was in 2001: a Space Odyssey

WriteKnight
04-28-2009, 03:54 AM
Right, all you need is a giant monolith... everybody knows that!

small axe
04-29-2009, 12:11 AM
Right, all you need is a giant monolith... everybody knows that!

I always thought that scene was a little much to believe!

Not only do the apes see the Monolith and start using tools ... but they just happen to find a symphony orchestra's worth of musical instruments lying around too -- so they can start playing all that lush music while the other guys bash bones? C'mon ... ;)

GeorgeK
05-01-2009, 10:34 PM
Any other comments along those lines though?

Selective breeding for intelligence: Farmers do it for wool, meat etc. Why couldn't aliens do it for intelligence? If they have advanced gene manipulation, they could do it invitro and speed things up, remove or add a chromosome that they did or didn't like, implant it and know pretty quickly if they've tweaked it beyond viability.

dgiharris
05-04-2009, 11:27 AM
First, I would like to remind most people on here that modern day genetics just began. Putting all the sciences into context, the majority of modern day sciences are around a hundred or so years old.

Now, the mathematics and theories forming the basis of the sciences in most cases is 400 or so years old. (below are just swags to make a point)

Aeronautics, 100 years old. We were able to break the sound barrier get to the moon within 60 yrs.

Electronics, 100 years old. We were able to produce radios, computers, etc within 80 years.

Thermodynamics, 200 yrs old. Able to produce steam engines, refriderators, the combustion engine within 100 yrs or so.

Modern day Genetics. About 30 years old with the human Genome project starting about 15 years ago.

My point. We are on the threshold of kicking the field of genetics wide opened. In 50 years, expect medical treatment to make our current treatments look like the dark ages.


Can someone clarify two points though, please?

Does any fact in known genetics rule out that the "3%" or so genetic difference between Man and ape (stoopid monkey!) couldn't have arisen due to ET manipulation of existing lower ape DNA?

Basically, is it possible for ETs to manipulate our DNA and produce humans out of Monkey stock. Yes it is possible, I see absolutely NO difficulty for an advanced civilization to do this. Hell, we just grew a human ear on the back of a mouse for shits and giggles a couple of years ago. Big deal.
Could ETs have made us out of monkeys. Sure, But the evidence doesn't support it. Evidence supports (more or less) a slow evolution occuring over millions of years (yes, there are a few holes in the evolutionary theory, but they will be plugged when the human genome project is finished).


But could an advanced genetic technology look at apes, see a DNA trait that is "trending towards" Intelligence, and -- using only Earth DNA -- "boost" that genetic trait towards certain brain forms that allow for HUMAN intelligence?

Absolutely. We already know there are a few precursors to intelligence and lack of intelligence. Take Downs Syndrome, we've identified the chromosome responsible for it. Basically, we do the low tech version of this with selective breeding. Once we figure out the genetic links (which we are doing) we will be fairly close to the abilities dictated in Gataca. I think that we will be at the Gataca level in 50 years.


Choose and accelerate a trend that might be otherwise lost by the intervening 1,000,000 years of hit-and-miss mutation and natural selection?

We've done this with dogs. The Majority of dog breeds are the direct result of human breeding efforts starting around 1600 for shits and giggles (expecially England). In just 400 years we've managed to make dogs the most numerous breed on the planet by doing it the low tech way. Just imagine what we could do with gene splicing and applying some science.


And would that "leap" be in any way visible to us now, after the fact?

Actually, yes. Yes it would be. However, we would first need to have a solid model and understanding of genetics and evolution which we don't have yet.

Assuming that we do, what you would then do is simply run a linear regression or 'model' of human evolution based on the science of evolution.

You would then compare this model to the evidence. If the model does not match the evidence, then you can extrapolate the level of 'outside' influence.

Let me draw an analogy to a science we are fairly confident in so you can see where i'm going.

We pretty much have a good grasp on radioactive decay. We know that certain elements have certain levels of radioactive decay resulting in certain byproducts.

But what if we find an element whose byproducts are all over the map. Since we know our science is sound we can figure out or deduce what happened to produce the resultant atypical byproducts.

now, what would make this difficult is if the aliens screwed with us in a way that would have been natural anyway. Which of course would beg the question "Why screw with something to only do what would happen naturally"

Hope this helps

Mel...

Fenika
05-05-2009, 07:06 AM
Heck, you can tell if two dog BREEDS shared a common ancestry. Well, they are still working on the databanks. But if you really wanted to know you could do your own research and figure it out.

GeorgeK
05-05-2009, 07:33 PM
"Why screw with something to only do what would happen naturally"
...

to speed things up because they need us in the kitchen sooner rather than later

veinglory
05-05-2009, 08:02 PM
Or because what would have happened naturally would actually be something else. After all it is based on what random mutation. Just introducing a few beneficial changes that are not so random after all could have radical effects.

dgiharris
05-06-2009, 02:48 AM
Not sure if you understood the context of my point.

The OPs question was "would we be able to determine if some higher power/alien messed around with our DNA."

In a nutshell, my answer is yes, if and only if those changes (to include time/pace and probability of occurrence) are different than what would happen naturally.

Now, what makes that determination difficult is if aliens messed with our DNA in a manner that would have happened anyway.

My follow on answer (given the above event) was why in the hell aliens would want to do something that would happen anyway.

Vienglory's response is a decent 'why' since the nature of evolution has a statisical component.

The closer the alien's guidance to the most probable path of evolution, the harder it is to discern 'outside' influence.

The further that guidance is from the probability curve, the easier to discern 'outside' influence.

Hope this clarifies my answer

Mel...

small axe
05-06-2009, 08:44 AM
I sort of touched upon the issue too, though: If the aliens saw a COOL trait that might evolve into something FAR COOLER ... they'd want to make sure we went in that cool direction, and didn't fall prey to unlucky random mutation or brutal natural selection, etc.

"These gracile guys, they're gonna be stunning artists in a few million years, they're gonna be the scientists. Let's tinker with them. Let's make sure they don't get killed off by the bigger, stoopider, war-like robustus goons two valleys over."

Of course, that's why they dragged the really COOL artistic spiritual kids into the starship ... poked blow holes in the tops of their heads ... and made them dolphins.

We're the dim-witted goons who would've broken all the best toys Christmas morning! :poke:

defcon6000
05-06-2009, 12:16 PM
Of course, that's why they dragged the really COOL artistic spiritual kids into the starship ... poked blow holes in the tops of their heads ... and made them dolphins.

Haha! We shouldn't have misinterpreted their philosophical wisdom as whistles, clicks and cute tricks. :e2smack:

I think it's possible for aliens to come down, pick out some apes that appear to be more intuned than their brethren (as in they use tools, can figure out simple problems). Analyze their genes, pick out which ones make them so much more intelligent, and either (this could go both ways) breed the smart apes until you get Homo sapiens OR genetically engineer humans by reconstructing the ape's DNA.

small axe
05-07-2009, 06:55 AM
"You Earthlings ... you have a problem with war." :)

Anyone remember that episode? I assume it's an original TWILIGHT ZONE episode.

Aliens come down, and address the U.N. -- the Earth will be destroyed unless the humans can find a solution to their human "problem with war" within a week etc.

So all the nations come together, the West and the USSR and Communist China -- and agree to destroy all their weapons and make war no more ...

A week later, the Aliens return, see the situation of world peace, and become enraged: "You pathetic idiots! We created your species to become our race of WARRIORS -- but always just when you get a really bloody war going -- you desperately try to MAKE PEACE! You're worthless to us --!"

Humans have a "problem with war" you see ... :D

So they destroy the Earth and start over ...

Pthom
05-07-2009, 11:44 AM
This thread is rapidly becoming speculative. Remember, folks, this subforum is for discussing factual science.

If you would like to continue in the speculative vein, that's fine. Just let me know and I'll move it to the main SF/F forum. Thanks.

GeorgeK
05-12-2009, 05:20 AM
In a nutshell, my answer is yes, if and only if those changes (to include time/pace and probability of occurrence) are different than what would happen naturally.
...

However, since natural mutations are theoretically random, we'd have no way of knowing if several significant changes in a short amount of time were the result of random chance or deliberate manipulation. Randomness does not occur on a regular schedule.

veinglory
05-12-2009, 06:34 PM
However the probabilty of random things can still be calculated, and highly improbable things are candidates for not being random.

MelancholyMan
05-12-2009, 06:53 PM
And would that "leap" be in any way visible to us now, after the fact?

The answer is yes.

There is a field of science known as statistical thermodynamics which applies to characterizing large numbers of particles. Like, zillions of particles. Think, the ocean. Statistical thermodynamics is used to describe the behavior of these vast numbers of particles since it is impossible to either know the state of each one, or to predict based on their mutual interaction, what is going to happen next.

A good example is the monkey at the keyboard gedankenexperiment. How long would it take a monkey at a keyboard, randomly hitting keys, to produce a work of Shakespeare? The answer is, based on a quatification of the system, longer than the lifetime of the known universe. It can then be assumed that such a thing isn't going to happen.

Alternately, statistical thermodynamics can be used to work out the non-zero probability that all the air in the room you are sitting in right now will spontaneously collect in the upper left hand corner. The answer is non-zero but extremely small. So small we can rule it out.

Applied to random genetic mutations, statistical thermodynamics comes up with some interesting numbers. With the entire ocean as a system, and the parameters set to place various nucleotides or amino acid bases a certain average distance from one another, the time for proto-DNA to self-assemble is far longer than the Monkey producing a work of Shakespeare. Similar probabilities, on the order of 10E-40, arise when considering randomly mutating DNA of a higher life-form producing a new and unique organism.

Now this doesn't preclude spontaneous evolution of life if we can assume an infinite universe with infinite time. But neither of these conditions are realistic. So in fact, physics as we understand it, negates the likelihood of life evolving AS WE UNDERSTAND IT. This isn't an argument for or against evolution or for or against creation, merely a statement of mathematical fact. And because of this fact, given the very limited access we have to the data, one possible conclusion is that someone or something has been monkeying with the genetic code. Liken it to digging up a manufactured item, be it a stone arrow head or a watch, and concluding that someone has been in that spot before.

The very fact that we are here at all is proof that someone else has been here too. Who that is I don't know but we probably don't want to meet... it.

Higgins
05-13-2009, 05:39 PM
Applied to random genetic mutations, statistical thermodynamics comes up with some interesting numbers. With the entire ocean as a system, and the parameters set to place various nucleotides or amino acid bases a certain average distance from one another, the time for proto-DNA to self-assemble is far longer than the Monkey producing a work of Shakespeare. Similar probabilities, on the order of 10E-40, arise when considering randomly mutating DNA of a higher life-form producing a new and unique organism.



Among other things this shows:
1) why when you are dead you stay that way
2) You need a confined space to assemble your proteins

Oddly, it doesn't have much to do with how actual cells and what not have evolved on the earth. For example, you probably are not going be able to make the whole ocean of a planet into a single cell, which is what the use of a whole ocean as a statistical assumption seems to imply.

Things were more interesting than that, it seems:

http://www.livescience.com/environment/070410_purple_earth.html

dgiharris
05-14-2009, 06:06 AM
However, since natural mutations are theoretically random, we'd have no way of knowing if several significant changes in a short amount of time were the result of random chance or deliberate manipulation. Randomness does not occur on a regular schedule.


However the probabilty of random things can still be calculated, and highly improbable things are candidates for not being random.

Bingo!!!


The answer is yes.

There is a field of science known as statistical thermodynamics which applies to characterizing large numbers of particles.......
Applied to random genetic mutations, statistical thermodynamics comes up with some interesting numbers.......
Similar probabilities, on the order of 10E-40, arise when considering randomly mutating DNA of a higher life-form producing a new and unique organism.

This is one of the reasons why I don't like it when people say 'random' mutations. The mathematics do not support random mutations leading to intelligent life.

I believe that the 'holes' in the random mutation/evolution theory will be plugged when the Humane Genome project is done and we've had a few decades to apply that knowledge into new (genetic, thermo dynamic, etc) models.

All of our successful theories in physics, math, electromagnetic theory, nuclear, etc. etc. began as 'good theories' with some 'holes'. As we progressed in science we were able to plug those holes and realize more accurate equations and models.

I suspect the same will happen with the theory of evolution. I'm hopeful that within the next 60 years, we will have a working theory that accurately models the 'evolution' of this planet's organisms.

Mel...

blacbird
05-15-2009, 06:28 AM
The very fact that we are here at all is proof that someone else has been here too.

Well . . . not really.

For starters, if "someone else" existed before, by your leap in logic, wouldn't their existence be proof that someone even more else preceded them? Ad infinitum, chicken-egg, etc.

Life on this planet is intimately tied to the chemistry inherent in the planet, to its tectonically active lithosphere, to the planet as a whole. That chemistry traces to the formation of the planet itself, and its developmental history. We are here because we belong here, are part of the life of the planet itself.

caw

Euan H.
05-21-2009, 05:01 PM
Choose and accelerate a trend that might be otherwise lost by the intervening 1,000,000 years of hit-and-miss mutation and natural selection?

And would that "leap" be in any way visible to us now, after the fact?

Dude. No offence, but DNA and genes don't work like that. Relating a gene to an adult charactistic is hard enough, but relating it to something as abstract as "intelligence" ain't gonna fly.#1, genetic instructions (in the main) are instructions for development sequences in the embryo, not characteristics in the adult. (Hence, no gene for 'IQ'). #2 It's fairly obvious that "intelligence" (as operationalized by, e.g., IQ scores) is mainly a product of environment and not genetic variation (yeah, it is; see studies of chimps being taught language, etc.; studies of identical twins raised in in different environments, results of IQ tests varying across cultures, etc.).

You could tweak, sure, but ending up with increased intelliegence is so astronomically unlikely that it's basically fantasy to even think about it. Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker gives a good explanation why.

The only way an alien race could 'breed' for intelligence is to set up some kind of lab and reward those who succeeded in whatever trials were going on in the lab with the right to breed (like humans do with dogs); however, then you're not breeding for intelligence, but for whatever operationalization of it the aliens choose to employ. (e.g., puzzle solving, getting through a maze, etc.)

Mind you, you could probably make a good story from that, but the idea that you can manipulate intelligence by playing around with DNA is like saying you can manipulate how emotionally balanced peopel are by messing with their DNA*.

*It won't work, 'cause environment plays a role too. Ain't no heredity determinists here, nope.