Science Fact Swallows Science Fiction

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By Robert Owens:

Dr. Robert Owens

Not too long ago I began a science fiction novel, which has always been a dream of mine, and since I finally broke through the fiction wall last year with my book, America’s Trojan War I thought it was time.  I even had a plot that had been rattling around in my mind for years.

I began working in what I call Writing Mode, which is where I go when consumed with the writing of a new book.  Typically I will rise at about four in the morning and write for twelve hours, sleep and repeat until done.  Building on the years of pre-writing and research that precedes the first chapter I often stay in continuous Writing Mode for weeks at a time.

This process has led to the completion of a dozen published books and several more that are currently working their way through the publication pipeline.  In my mind’s eye I could see my long anticipated science fiction novel spring fully formed from my forehead much as Athena sprang from Jupiter’s in the Greek Myth.  The anticipation of a successful creative birth drove me on.

Here is the plot that inspired me.  A couple of scientists who were also husband and wife, he a world renowned geneticist and she a programming superstar, decide to translate the human genome into computer code.  Once they have completed this herculean task they decide to hack the code. When they do they are immediately confronted with the entity that wrote the code and transported into an endless array of parallel realities.  In these multiple realities it seems each was the invention of another and like a reflection of a reflection in a mirror these wheels within wheels stretched infinitely off into life begetting life.

Through struggles, temptations, and conflict the pair of scientific Argonauts chased the golden fleece of knowledge searching for the prime cause.  For they knew that every sequence has its beginning, and there must always be not only a first domino to fall but also someone to knock it over.

Then in what was meant to be a stunning and thought provoking climax our intrepid duo finally break through to the final reality and find themselves using their hacked DNA code to birth a new reality.  Thus the circle is unbroken and life begets life begets life begets life in an eternal cycle and the prime mover remains veiled while the unnatural source of nature reverberates through reality.

That was the plan.

Unfortunately the reality of science fact swallowed my science fiction.  First the CRISPR-Cas9 comes along.  This is a remarkable technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit the genome by removing, adding, or altering sections of the DNA sequence.   There goes the revolutionary idea of hacking the genome.

This was followed by a headline which provided the final nail in my science fictional coffin, “Lab-Made DNA Used to Breed a Life Form for the First Time.”  This article continued to hammer away at my fictional ideas of creating life by introducing modified genetic codes into reality and thereby willing existence into reality.  The author, Clyde Hughes, put it this way, “Lab-made DNA has been used to breed a life form for the first time by expanding the genetic code with the help of common E. coli microbes.”

Not satisfied with dashing my dreams of wowing people with outlandish concepts the article added, “Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California modified common E. coli microbes to carry expanded genetic material which they believe will eventually allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave.”  As my imagination was corralled by reality the following posts were driven into the now to confine my musings of the future:

“Scripps Research scientist Floyd Romesberg said his colleagues have created a single-celled organism that can hold on indefinitely to the natural DNA mix in synthetic-base material.”

“You can think of these unnatural nucleobases as X and Y.”

“Romesberg said the challenge with X and Y … was that they would lose their code as they divided. Graduate student Yorke Zhang and Brian Lamb, an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow, used a tool called a nucleotide transporter to allow X and Y to be copied across the cell’s membrane.”

According to Zhang, “The transporter was used … , but it made the semisynthetic organism very sick.”

The author of the article interjected, “The researchers found a way to modify the transporter that alleviated the problem, making it easier for the organism to grow and divide while holding on to X and Y.”

And finally the author and the scientists ganged up on me and delivered the death blow to my science fiction fantasy about creating life when they delivered this, “The researchers said their next step is to study how their new genetic code can be transcribed into RNA, the molecule in cells needed to translate DNA into proteins.”

I figured why write a fictional novel about what is now reality.  Therefore to compensate for this extreme case of Writus Interruptus and to live out the rituals and exigencies of my artistic Pon farr I waded into the depths of writing mode birthing two new books which will soon be available.  These books are: Then Came Trump, wherein I share insights about where we have come from, where we are now, and where the Donald promised to lead us.  And The More things Change the More They Stay the Same, which deals with the development of the secular political religion which is jingoistic patriotism using the three presidential assassinations of the 19th century as case studies.

Reflecting further on the startling announcement that humanity now has the power to create life I am reminded of an old story.

A scientist says to God, “You’re not so much I can create life right here in my laboratory.”

God answers, “Is that so?”

“Yes, it is and I challenge you to a contest.  Let’s see who can create life faster and better, you or I” responded the scientist filled with pride over his great ability.

“All right,” said God “let’s give it a try.”

With that God stoops down and picks up some dust and starts molding it in his hands and the scientist grabs his test tubes and starts pouring liquids back and forth.  God pauses and looks at the scientist and says, “Hey, get your own dust.”

© Copyright by Robert Owens, 2017. All rights reserved.

Robert Owens
About Robert Owens 182 Articles
Dr. Robert Owens is a College Professor and the author of a widely published weekly opinion column. He is also a retired house painter, a retired pastor, a member of House Church Networks, and a composer. He holds an Associate Degree in Biblical Studies, a Bachelor Degree in Religious Education, a Bachelor Degree in History, a Masters Degree in Religious Education, a Masters Degree in History, and a Ph. D. in Organizational Leadership.
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