I love the creative thinking in this article! When I first read COS and learned about the Polyjuice Potion, I thought that Jo probably had DNA in mind. However, I know from genetics class that not every hair (or any toenails) contains DNA. DNA samples can be taken from hair if there is a coating (called a sheath) on the end that was attached to the person's head. There's not always a sheath on the end of the hair when you pull it out, and definitely not when you cut off a piece of hair. DNA samples are usually taken by swabbing a person's inner cheek with a cotton swab or by taking a blood sample.
So after I learned all of that, I pretty much just figured that Polyjuice Potion is like a magical version of James Bond's invisible car, where mirrors make it blend in with its surroundings. Only instead of making the drinker invisible it could project an image of the person whose hair or toenail clippings are in the potion. The drinker's DNA would not be changed at all.
This theory doesn't account for how PP changes a person's voice...any ideas? Fascinating topic!
Author's Response: Oh wow! That puts a whole new twist on this topic! Usually, I'm one to assume that JKR has thought of everything - like worked out every little detail and researched the crud out of anything she puts in the books. Here, however, it wouldn't surprise me if she had simply looked over the fact that hair has no DNA in it (usually), I mean, I for one never thought twice about it! We always hear about "hair samples" and tv doesn't help with perpetuating that belief, so I totally thought it always had DNA in it. Now that we know it doesn't, however, I think that's really interesting and I love your mirror theory. It reminds me a bit of the flying ship in the Avengers movie that turns on the mirrors and reflects the surroundings to blend in. Not quite the same, but the theory is still there! As far as still affecting the voice, well that takes me back to the theory that something to do with DNA has to be involved, but as you so rightly point out, toe nails and hair are not enough to get that. Hmmm... Thanks for the great reply! I really love learning about the real science behind these issues. I studied English & French so I often lack the scientific explanation!
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I agree that the potion probably changes the DNA completely, but magic comes into play with keeping the mind the same (in the wizarding world, I think this is quite separate from the physical brain) and transforming the non-DNA attributes as well. So, I definitely believe that magic and science work together to make this (as well as transfiguration) possible. Great essay, I love thinking about the inner workings of Polyjuice!
I like your essay. I think a lot of what goes on when a person drinks polyjuice potion, has to do with DNA. We learn that Hagrid cannot drink it because he is half-giant. I do think it is strange that when Ron and Harry first learn about polyjuice potion, Ron thought they were going to use toenail clippings, which made me wonder, how would they get Crabbe and Goyle's toenails to add to the potion. And then when it is nearly finished, they switched to hairs. Another thing I would like to mention, the time frame. We learn from Hermione that it would last only one hour. In GOF, we see Mad-Eye drink from his flask constantly. We guess he is drinking every hour. But in DH, the time frame is stretched. My guess that the time frame of the 7 Potters lasts longer than an hour, because no one transforms back into their orginal selves until after the battle. Later, when Harry takes it for Bill and Fleur's wedding, he takes a large amount which makes him look like a Muggle for the whole wedding. He doesn't transform back into Harry until they escape and end up in Tottenham Court. And again, when Harry and Hermione are in Godric Hollow, they stay Muggles for a long stretch of time, until after they escape Voldemort. And when Hermione takes the polyjuice potion to transform into Bellatrix, she stays that way until the trip down into Gringotts and it washes off under the Thief's Downfall. (Magical waterfall).
There are limits to what happens when you drink the polyjuice potion, but it is still important for students to learn how to brew it.
This is a brilliant topic to discuss and very well-written. I can't wait until we get to the fourth book so we can discuss this really in depth on the forums.
At first, I would have gone with the idea that she would turn into Harry in that case but now you've got me sitting on the fence.
The thing is, if Crouch Jr. could just take hairs from his own Polyjuiced head to add into the next batch of potion he has.. it's like there is no limit. And why would he have kept Moody in the first place? Surely he'd done his research on Moody thoroughly before trying to impersonate him. And besides, it is specifically said that Moody was kept in the trunk alive so that Crouch could continue to take his hairs. It's in that chapter where they discover him in GoF. So you need an actual body-part from the person in question, I think.
Then there is also the issue of the Marauder's Map. When Polyjuiced, you still show up on the Map as yourself. So you are still essentially yourself, and we know this anyway because you keep your mind during the transformation. I don't know a lot about DNA and genetics so I'm sorry if I'm completely wrong, but I imagine the Potion to kind of physically transform you so that you LOOK different but you are still you in essence. So maybe you have the same DNA as normal, but your features have just been warped to look different. As you said, the injuries of a person don't have anything to do with their DNA, but the Potion still compensated for it. So I think the transformation could be based on something other than DNA.
But if it IS DNA, maybe if you took the hair of a Polyjuiced person, the Potion wouldn't work at all. We know the Potion is quite complex and precise so maybe it only works with a true hair. Or it could possibly create some kind of horrific effect like when Hermione turned half-cat. When you transform it could be some kind of mixture of your DNA and the other person's so your mind and such is yours but areas of the body aren't. And if you took a hair from this, it would create some kind of mixture between you and the person you are impersonating. Some kind of HarryRon hybrid.
There's so much to think about! Great Quibble and if I have any more thoughts or actually decide which side I'm on (haha), I'll drop in another comment.
Author's Response: Thanks so much! I completely agree with you that both factors seem to be at play and I think the Maurauder's Map is a great example to bring up. I really do feel DNA has a role in this to some extent, but examples like this show that complex magic is at work here that does what science cannot. I also like what you said about a HarryRon hybrid. I'm no expert on science either, but I think it would make sense that the further you get away from using the original hair strands, the more warped the copies would be. Even viruses and bacterial infections (like the flu) change slightly over time as they multiply and recopy their DNA, making each strand just different enough from the original. Definitely let me know if you end up deciding either way! I'd be curious to hear what you think if you do choose one side over the other! You're right, it is a lot to think about.
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