Under strong pressure from the UN, scientists and the general public, the RDA agreed to set up a program to enhance communications between humans and Na’vi. At first, this consisted solely of an Indigenous Terrain program to study Na’vi culture and language and to attempt to establish communication between man and Na’vi. Practical difficulties soon showed a need for a more profound means of communication between the human and Na’vi species.
RDA research had already established the possibility of direct mental communication between humans, and RDA scientist Dr. Cordell Lovecraft was given the task of carrying his “Dark Dreamer” project, which sought to transmit mental processes – “thoughts” – to humans at a distance, to interspecies communication.
Initial dissection of Na’vi specimens found that although Na’vi show a surprising degree of external convergent evolution, internally they are quite different from humans. The Na’vi brain in particular, with its external tendrils and three-lobed structure was a daunting obstacle.
Building on work with brain-wiped primates and condemned criminals, Dr. Lovecraft was able to demonstrate that full sensory bonding could be established between human twins, human-animal hybrids that shared common DNA, and eventually human-Na’vi hybrids with common genetic blueprints.
more after the Jump
Since Na’vi don’t use DNA or RNA to carry their genetic information, producing a ‘translation table’ that matched DNA with NVTranscriptase closely enough to allow a level of morphic resonance strong enough for communication to occur required months of computer time and multiple failed experiments, some of which caused irreparable trauma to volunteer subjects.
Eventually the Avatar Program succeeded in producing the first viable hybrids between completely unrelated species – a considerable achievement since, as Dr Lovecraft famously remarked, humans are “far more closely related genetically to garden slugs than to Na’vi.”
With the help of psionic amplification, and thanks to customized reception nodes grown into avatar brains from their earliest blastomere stage of development, human drivers can now operate their avatars at distances of tens of kilometers.
The Avatar project was originally intended to create mine-workers who did not need environmental protection systems and could eat Pandoran foodstuffs, but the cost of the mental-link system remained too high for the numbers needed. Avatars are now used for field work, and when the opportunity arises, to interact with the Na'vi and study them.
Originally part of RDA’s Na’vi outreach program instigated at the behest of Earth government authorities, the Avatar Program has moved from being a poorly-defined xenobiological experiment controlled by Earth-based bureaucrats, ivory-tower academics and populist politicians to become a tightly-managed engineering project incorporating the most advanced technology from RDA’s labs.
An Avatar (Na'vi name: unil-tìran-tokx translates "dream walk body") is a human mind transferred into a genetically engineered body of a human/Na'vi hybrid. Humans use this method because they cannot live on Pandora without breathing gear because the atmosphere is toxic, containing lethal levels of ammonia, methane and chlorine. Avatars mainly serve as means for communication with the aboriginal population. The RDA has been trying to bridge the cultural gap and improve relations with the Na'vi. However, this task has been difficult due to communication and negotiation issues. Avatars, therefore, serve important roles as mediators by relaying cultural information and demands to each party in a peaceful manner. The Na'vi refer to them as "Dream Walkers" or "Demons in a false body."
The link is total; the human believes he is actually inhabiting the Na’vi body, with all senses, reflexes and bodily functions fully operational. The avatar body, having been grown in an amnio tank with the help of growth accelerants, has no personality of its own and is inert (except for basic autonomous functions) when not under human control.
The Avatar Program scientists take DNA from a Na'vi and from a selected human volunteer. On Earth, in genetics labs, they create an in-vitro embryo, which is a genetic composite of the alien and human donor.
The recombinant embryo is grown in-vitro during the flight to Pandora, which takes 3 years (ship-time/ 5 years Earth time). In that time it reaches near adult size, since the locals mature fast.
Each avatar is specially made using genetic information from its human controller and despite obvious differences in size and physiology is equivalent to its controller’s twin. This genetic matching is necessary to allow morphic projection to operate on the alien body; attempts to use unmatched bodies have invariably failed.
The avatar has the body structure and physiology of a Pandoran native. However, adding the human genes necessary to allow mental linking alter the Na'vi anatomy. This produces five digits (rather than the normal four of the Na'vi) on the hands and feet. Scientists have also been unable to retain the Na'vi opposable “thumb toe.” They also have eyebrows, which the Na'vi lack. Avatars display slightly more human-like body structures than the Na'vi. This is especially apparent when comparing the build of Jake Sully to that of the male Na'vi of the Omaticaya Clan; Jake's body structure is sturdier than those of the more willowy Na'vi. Additionally, the eyes of an Avatar are usually smaller and more human-like in contrast to the large, lemur-like eyes of the Na'vi. The nose of the Avatar is also different; it has a more pronounced central ridge, much like the human nose. The Na'vi nose, however, is much flatter and cat-like.
Since the avatar is a hybrid of human and Na'vi DNA material, an avatar generally develops facial features similar to their human driver, easily recognizable by other humans as the “Na'vi version” of the avatar's driver. However, hair color remains dark brown to black and the eyes remain yellow, regardless of the pigmentation of the human driver.
When it is "born" (or more properly decanted) as a post-adolescent, it looks like a Na'vi, and can live comfortably on Pandora, but it has enough human neurophysiology to be used as an Avatar, or surrogate body. The human volunteer then becomes a Controller. Using Psionic Link technology, the human controller can remotely control the avatar body out in the wilds of Pandora. The controller receives all sensory input and provides all motor control to the body.
The cost of each Avatar is roughly five hundred million dollars ($500,000,000)
Dr. Lovecraft has been nominated for multiple Nobel prizes in biological sciences, but the nominations have invariably been withdrawn following protests from human rights organizations, the UN Pan-Faith Council and animal rights activists.
It is possible, using the unique biology of Pandora and assistance of the Na'vi, for a human to transfer his conscious mind permanently into an Avatar body. The method is first tried in an attempt to save the life of Avatar Program's lead scientist, Grace Augustine. However, the transfer fails due to her injuries. A second attempt is made on Jake Sully after he has led the Na'vi to victory against the RDA and driven them (with some exceptions) off Pandora. The movie concludes with his human body being exposed to the moon's atmosphere, and his Avatar body opening its eyes. This suggests that the transformation succeeds.
The controlled environment of the amnio tank was originally developed to replace functions of mammalian womb. It is used for growing cloned animals, humans (rarely) and (most commonly) replacement limbs and organs. It is now used with great success to grow avatar bodies that are genetically linked to their controllers. This in turn allows for an effective psilink between human controller and the cloned avatar.
The growth takes place in a suspension fluid, a mostly inert substitute for amniotic fluid kept at a controlled temperature and with constantly monitored composition. One or more placentiums, which function similarly to a mammalian placenta, supply nutrients and hormones to the organ or creature being cultivated. Monitoring equipment is used to closely control the nutrients, growth stimulants and other materials supplied via the placentium.
Cellular rebuilders, found at many large Terran hospitals serving clients with alpha-level insurance coverage, are modified amnio tanks. Clients suffering from serious injury or organ failure are put into an induced coma, connected to a placentium, then immersed in the rebuilder tank where reconstruction at a cellular level is performed under nanobotic control.
Amnio tanks range in size from the one-pint “Digigrow” found in many doctor's offices as an outpatient service, to the converted dry dock at Anchorage Naval Yards currently being used as part of the Ocean Phoenix whale revival project.
The amnio tanks used by the Avatar Project are unusually large, to accommodate the Na’vi-like creatures they are built to create. A standard human amnio tank is about 2.2 meters long and holds about 570 liters of fluid. An avatar tank is 385.82 centimeters long, 148.4 centimeters wide, and holds nearly 6,350 liters of fluid. In addition, the avatar tanks are designed to be portable, since most avatar growth takes place on the interstellar vehicle during transit to Pandora.
Thanks to the long duration of the journey (almost six years Earth time), less aggressive growth stimulants are needed to bring the avatar to full adult stature than would usually be necessary; most organisms grown in amnio tanks on Earth are completed within six months.
More “natural” growth to full size of avatars meant that research essentially duplicating the types of experiments carried out on terrestrial mammals did not have to be performed, and also reduced the complexity of the amnio tank monitoring system.
An indication of the differences between Earth organisms and those found on Pandora is given by the composition of the fluid in the amnio tank – the avatar amnio fluid is a relatively strong alkali solution rather than the simple saline that is the base of terrestrial amnio fluids. Indeed, it is so strong that most Earth organisms would be largely dissolved by a few weeks of immersion, and human technicians decanting fully matured avatars are required to wear gloves and protective eyewear during the process. Xenobiologists have discovered that avatar amnio fluid reflects the composition of Pandora’s oceans, which are also somewhat caustic.