William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Thirty-Eight

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Carson spent about an hour and a half prepping Prometheus for the new test procedures.  Acadia Genomics, a contractor working with the National Science Foundation had shipped the first sixteen mylar sheets of genetic material sequenced from the X chromosome.   Over the next four weeks, the remaining 972 sheets would arrive.  Each sheet had 144 dimples in which a small pool of segmented DNA awaited testing.

Carson worked the math in his head.  The initial tests were run, introducing the four different hormone complexes that Julia had identified as the most promising into each sample.  988 sheets x 144 samples x four tests made for 569,088 discrete procedures.

The first tray fixed on the platform, Carson cracked his knuckles, and hit the Return key.  Prometheus came to life.  Carson followed on the monitor as the robotic arm ran a test perimeter of the sample tray, calibrated the distance to the sterile meter-square nylon film, and retracted to its ready position.  Carson typed in ‘Execute’ just as the fat man entered the room.

“Be with you in a moment,” he said, as the robot arm sped from the sample tray to the nylon film, depositing droplets of genetic material from each dimple onto four sections of the nylon film.”

“A robot.  Cool.  It’s like the Terminator, isn’t it?” the man asked.   “Does the governor know about this?”

Carson ignored him.

“What’s it doing?

Carson stared transfixed as Prometheus worked.  “It’s setting up a test film,” he said.  “See that sheet that looks like plastic?”


“It’s divided into four sections.  The robot takes bits of DNA from each sample and puts one droplet in each of the four sections.  So this sheet will have 576 droplets on it when it’s done in about eleven minutes.  Then each section will get sprayed with sort of a hormone soup.  Then we’ll switch out the appendage and put a sensor at the end of the robot arm and search for reactions.  If we get a reaction, we figure we have genetic material that activates with one of the hormones.  Then we can try to isolate both the hormone and the genes involved.”

“And if you find it, we can live forever?” the man asked.

“That’s right.”

“Has it ever worked?”

“Not yet.”  Carson turned to face him, “And I don’t know who you are.  What’s more, you don’t have an ID badge, so you need to leave.”

You must be Carson or Alice or Kathryn,” the man said.  “You don’t look like a Kathryn.”

“I’m Alice.  Who are you?  You can tell me on your way out.”  He picked up the phone.

“My name is Adam LaPorte.  I wanted to ask your advice about something, but I don’t any more.”

Carson frowned.  “You wanted to ask my advice but now you don’t?”

“Right.  I’m more interested in what you were saying.”

Carson put the phone down.  “Here’s the premise: we start with the notion that fetal development is an ordered sequence of irreversible steps.”

“That might mean something.”

“It does.  Up until the eighth week of gestation, an embryo has no distinct gender.  So the resting state of a human is female.  In the absence of a Y chromosome, an embryo will develop into a girl.   Mom provides an X and depending on whether dad gets a bull’s-eye with a girl sperm or a boy sperm, he delivers an X or a Y.  Two X’s and you have a girl, an X and a Y and you get a boy.  High school biology.”

Adam shook his head.  “Are you telling me I started out as a girl?”

“That’s right.”

“Could that be why I’m more comfortable peeing while sitting down, or why I cry sometimes during movies?”

Carson shook his head.  “I can’t answer that.  But what this means is that an embryo is always female unless it is altered by a gene on the Y chromosome.  And it’s a tiny gene; 240 triplets long.  It’s the same gene that codes for maleness in all mammals.”

“Even a bear?”

“Even a bear.  So I’m suggesting that the X chromosome is responsible for fetal development.  And if development is indeed an ordered sequence of irreversible steps, I’m taking the leap of faith that the rest of development is coded on the X as well, including aging and death.”

Adam sat heavily.  “That’s deep.”

“It is.”  Carson reached for the phone again.  “But as I mentioned, you’re not supposed to be here, so I need to have to leave.”

“Look at something first and give me an expert opinion?”

Carson hesitated, liking the sound of that.  “Look at what?”

Adam opened his briefcase and pulled out a dead mouse.  “A methamphetamine  junkie overdosed and died in your hospital.  Afterwards, he had a reaction of a sort.  You are familiar with the incident I’m referring to.”

Carson put the phone down slowly.

“Good.  I got a sample of the meth, and I gave some to this mouse and a small group of its friends.”

“Where did you get the sample?”

“I’ll get to that when I talk with your boss.  All the mice died.  This one then undied via some process I’m not entirely familiar with.  An associate of mine suggested that there was a genetic marker that might have interacted with the substance.  I don’t know what that means.  That’s the sort of work you do, right?”

“Something like that.”  Carson nodded.  “You said the mouse ‘undied’?”

“Yes.  It took several hours.  No pulse, no heartbeat, no respiration.  Dead, paws in the air.  Then it came back.”

Carson wheeled over and picked up the mouse.  “It came back, huh.”

“Yeah.  You ever see anything like that?”

“No.  You do know that this mouse is dead, right?”

“I know,” Adam said.  “Looking back, I shouldn’t have kept it in a briefcase for two hours.  But I have others back at the lab if you want to see?  All of the males stayed dead but all the females came back.”

Carson blinked.  “Is that right?”

“Yes.  Why is this interesting?”

“It suggests an underlying genetic trigger,” Carson told him.  “It’s what we were just talking about.”

“See I still don’t understand that part.”

“Where did you say you worked?”

“I work at a flavoring company.”

“Mice need flavor?”

Adam shook his head.  “Let’s cut through this, OK?”

“What kind of things do you flavor?”

“Snack cakes.”

“Yeah?  Do you make those cupcakes with the cream inside and the white icing squiggles?”


“I like those.”

“So do I.  I need to talk with Dr. Julia Beltran.  Would she take a call from you?”

“She would,” said Carson, picking up the phone.  “But she has a few other things on the burner right  now.”  He dialed.

“This is not the best time,” Julia told him.

“I know,” Carson said, “but I think we need to have a chat with this guy.”

“Well he can’t come here.”

“I know.  Come here.”

Written by williamdoonan

June 6, 2013 at 8:08 pm

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