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STEMfest Sci-Fi Writing Competition- Third Place Winner!

Synthetic Biology by Lauren Brazeau 

My name is Dr. Thomas F. Watson.  I’m a geneticist from Baltimore, and I was lucky enough to be a part of the Human Genome Project.  I was there from the very beginning, and up until it’s completion in 2003.  Once the project had been finished, I decided to leave the field.

My name is Dr. Thomas F. Watson.  I’m a geneticist from Baltimore, and I was lucky enough to be a part of the Human Genome Project.  I was there from the very beginning, and up until it’s completion in 2003.  Once the project had been finished, I decided to leave the field.

Several years later, I was asked to work on a very special, top secret project.  I wasn’t told much about the job, only that I would be working with some of my old colleagues from HGP.  I was ecstatic, of course.  It seemed a little suspicious at first, almost too good to be true.   Still, I missed my old job, and was very eager to get back into the lab.

On the first day, after my colleagues and I were finished reminiscing, we were introduced to Dr. Sinteza. He was a short, heavyset man, who had a worried expression his face as he paced back and forth.  “I’ve called you all here today to discuss a very controversial topic.  How do you all feel about Synthetic Biology?”  He directed the question to the group, but his eyes were fixed on my face.  Then he smiled.  “You all contributed to the Human Genome Project, and that has something to do with the opportunity I am going to give you today.

A human being.  That is the goal of my project.  We are going to create an adult human from scratch.”  Dr. Sinteza’s eyes fixed on a new person, as if he was studying each of our faces, making a mental note of who looked the most uncomfortable with the idea.   “If you want you can back out now, under one condition.  No information leaves this room.  This project isn’t exactly ethical, so I don’t want any stories leaking out.  Those of you who wish to stay, let me remind you that after today, you cannot leave this project.  I will have no quitters in my lab, so leave now if you don’t think you can handle it.”

I don’t know why I stayed.  About half of the people there left within the first hour.  Those of us who stayed were put straight to work on starting to create DNA.  Dr. Sinteza was right; our contributions to the Human Genome Project aided us greatly.  We had gotten down the whole human genome in a matter of months.  Getting it to replicate was easy enough, and since each specific body part was coded for in the genome, all we had to do was wait for the DNA to start making proteins.

*          *          *

After what seemed like forever, we finally had a human.  It was a scientific breakthrough, even though it was still just a fetus.  We designed the DNA to replicate faster than natural DNA would, so that we wouldn’t have to wait decades for the specimen to age.  It took about two years for the subject, who we now called Steve, to grow to an acceptable “adult” age.

Although his body was that of an adult, Steve’s brain was still that of an infant.  It took him a while, but he learned how to walk.  Every day, we’d come in and run blood tests, brain scans and tests on his cognitive development.  Everything was normal until about four months into the testing phase.

“Thomas, can you come here for a second?” Dr. Sinteza was looking through the microscope.  He looked worried.  I came over, and he told me to look into the microscope.  He asked me “What do you see?”  It looked like a group of proteins, but something was off.  “Can you tell me what is wrong with this sample?”

“These aren’t folding properly…”

“Correct, and what happens to proteins when they don’t fold properly?”

This puzzled me.  It was such a simple Biology question; surely he of all people would know the answer.  “Well, they won’t be able to function,” I responded.  He looked like he was disappointed by my reply.  “Why? What’s wrong, Dr. Sinteza?”

He paused, and slowly turned to me.  “These protein samples… These were taken from the brain tissue of our subject.”

“…What do you mean?”

“I mean his brain is decaying.”

This couldn’t be right.  Steve’s body had been designed to be perfect.  How could his brain be decaying?  I looked at the test results, and sure enough, it was true.  “What can we do?”

“I’m afraid we can’t do anything about it.  I suppose all we can do is... end the experiment.”

That was not an option I wanted to hear.  I told him that Steve wasn’t just some experiment that he could kill.  We argued.  I was fired.

*          *          *

I was told by my colleagues Dr. Sinteza ultimately decided to end the experiment a few weeks later.  At that time it was clear that Steve had begun the slow decent into madness.  A couple times a day he would have uncontrollable fits of laughter.  Sometimes his face would twitch and there were also times when he would stare at walls as if he was seeing things that weren’t there.  The scientists there all decided that it was for the best.

Steve was only alive for four months.  Although some people saw him as just an experiment, I saw him for what he really was.  A human being.

Bibliography

Dell'Amore, Christine. "Synthetic DNA Created, Evolves on It's Own." National Geographic, 19 Apr. 2012.

Web. 15 Oct. 2013

 

"National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) - Homepage." National Human Genome Research

Institute (NHGRI) - Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

 

Regis, Edward. What Is Life?: Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology. New York:

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.

 

VOOSEN, PAUL.  “Synthetic Biology Comes Down To Earth.”  Chronicle Of Higher Education (2013):  B10-

B13.  MasterFILE Elite. Web 13 Oct. 2013