Posts tagged science
Alien species sends goo to Earth?
“So what’s this,” you ask, “about aliens?” In my Sue’s books I had to invoke supernatural means to clone people on Earth. So, because it’s fiction, enter the aliens. The “goo” mysteriously arrives across the United States over a few weeks. Teams of public servants and scientists search for and find the goo in various physical conditions. Some of it was slimed on the pavement or blobbed on hoods of cars, other goo is found contained in flexible spherical pods. So where did it come from? Ted’s friends, the scientists at Manhattan Laboratory Services, deduce the goo fell to the ground. Was it dropped from a plane? Who would fly around and drop pods of goo that clone lab mice, a substance so complicated it’s not natural–at least not to Earth. No, it came from aliens on another planet.
“Hang on,” you say, “the goo would burn up in the atmosphere.” Precisely. And that confused the scientists until they found a hard, rock-like sphere that had safely landed on Earth–through the convertible top of a woman’s car, cushioned by her leather seats. They cracked open the sphere and found a pod of goo inside. They also tested the porosity of the rock and determined it was ceramic, hard enough to survive entry into the atmosphere–the same as the tiles on the space shuttles that used to re-enter after a trip to space.
“How would an alien species know to send goo specifically to Earth?” you ask. “And where was the alien planet?” As mentioned previously, the goo contained the memory of the alien species. And the properties of the goo made some advantageous mutations to the clones’ DNA that led to physical attributes to help the clones, and their offspring, survive on a warming planet. The scientists concluded the aliens purposely sent the goo from their planet. They also concluded the aliens simply blasted the goo all over the galaxy, hoping to find at least one planet where the goo would work. The aliens would have no way of knowing specifically that their goo would work on one single little planet on the edge of the galaxy. By launching the goo throughout the galaxy, the aliens would increase the probability of finding a planet or planets where the goo would be successful. As to where the planet was, the scientists couldn’t say for sure. It depended on when the goo was blasted into space and how fast the spheres traveled. Knowing those variables, the scientists could calculate how far away the planet was. If the spheres traveled near the speed of light and were sent only a few thousand years ago, the planet would be relatively close to Earth. If launched at twenty to fifty thousand miles an hour at the time the dinosaurs went extinct on this planet, the alien planet would be on the other side of the galaxy. But since the scientists knew they could not determine the speed and time, they could not determine where the aliens lived. They could only guess.
Although my books are fiction, I use science to plausibly deliver the key element of the story to the scene. The characters in the book don’t simply accept the arrival of the goo. They search for clues and conduct experiments to study the goo, pods, and spheres to determine their origin.
Testing the clones’ DNA
Ted Stevens, the DHS director assigned to contain Sue and the other clones, begins to understand the clones. He sees them learn and develop friendships. He does not share the same view as the special committee–the General and his minions, who believe the clones are aliens and should be locked up forever. Ted contracts with his friends at the laboratory to conduct DNA testing to prove the clones are just that: copies of their original people who touched the goo.
There are different kinds of DNA testing that could have been conducted. There are general DNA tests, fingerprint analyses (hence the name of Sue’s Fingerprint), and there are detailed tests, complete DNA sequencing. In the DNA fingerprint test, a person’s DNA is isolated and clipped into large pieces that are then separated for detection. The pattern of the DNA fragments is unique for an individual. The chances of two people having the same fingerprint are very very low. This is why the fingerprint test is used for paternity/maternity determinations, comparing the mother’s and/or father’s DNA to the child’s. It’s also used in criminal cases, to compare DNA recovered at the crime scene to the DNA of a suspect. In the more detailed test, the entire sequence of the base pairs (the order and pairings of the A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s) is determined for the whole genome of the subject. Every person’s DNA is different, and the differences are unique. An individual’s sequence can be compared to other genomes to identify the specific differences or mutations. The DNA fingerprint test can be conducted in a day or two, but the sequencing test can take months to complete.
In Sue’s Fingerprint, Ted uses the DNA fingerprint test to compare the clones’ DNA to the people who touched the goo, the people from whom they were cloned. When the DNA fingerprints of the clones come back identical to their other people, Ted knows the new people are just that: people. They are not aliens. The clones are humans. This test is the evidence Ted needs to release the clones.
In Sue’s Voice, Ted wants to learn why differences in the clone’s behavior have surfaced, including the behavior of the newest clone, Suzanne Theodora, the daughter of Donald and Denise. The DNA sequencing reveals many small differences or mutations that distinguish the clones’ DNA from human DNA. These differences are so small that they do not impact the fingerprint test. That is why the clones’ fingerprints matched their original people’s DNA. But when the special DHS committee steals the sequencing results, they know they have the test that can identify the clones, giving them the evidence to imprison the “aliens” and prosecute them as enemies of the government. (Even Ted is imprisoned with the clones for aiding the “alien invasion”.)
DNA testing in the Sue series is used to help the clones, but also harm them. Thankfully, Ted and the clones know how to fight back. Read the science and adventures in all three stories of Sue and the clones!
Mammals cloned from goo?
How does cloning work? Cloning is the process of making an exact copy of an animal. Basically, the genetic material (DNA) from an animal is extracted from one cell and then placed into a new cell. The DNA in the new cell makes the new cell grow an exact copy of the original animal. Simple, right?
The problem is… it’s really complex. To make a clone, or an exact copy of an animal, a scientist will extract DNA from one single cell of the animal. The DNA is then placed into an ovum (female’s egg cell). But the DNA in the donor mother’s ovum must be removed in order to put the other DNA into it. Once the new DNA is in the donor ovum, the fertilized ovum is placed back into the host mother’s body to grow like a regular new baby. Once the baby is born, it’s an exact copy of the original animal. But there are so many ways in which the cloning process can fail. The DNA must be pure. There can be no DNA left in the original ovum. And the cell must take hold and grow in the mother. (This is a simplification of the process, but you get the idea.) The odds of being successful are extremely low. To date, I believe the most complex animal that has been cloned to date has been a sheep–Dolly. Humans are too complex to be cloned.
So how are people cloned in my Sue books? The Goo! It’s alien! The substance came from an alien species on a dead planet. The doomed beings living on the dying planet specifically engineered it to have all the properties to overcome potential problems and successfully clone an animal when it comes in contact with the DNA from the animal. (Hey, it’s science FICTION.) They then sent the substance to planets all over the galaxy.
Why? The goo contained a message, the memory of the soon-to-be (or newly) extinct species and a warning for the inhabitants of other planets. And… the goo made a few modifications to the clones it created; adaptations that help them survive on a changing or dying planet. What adaptations? To find out more about these adaptations, you’ll have to read my books.
Why do I include science in my Sue books? Well, I’ll tell you…
First and foremost, the Sue books are Earth-based, light sci-fi stories. An alien substance appears on Earth, sometimes in little spherical pods, or just splattered on the ground. What does it do? When a mammal touches the “goo”, an exact copy appears: a clone. And the goo clones humans, also. These humans have no memory or knowledge (or clothes) when they arrive, but they learn quickly. And they have messages to deliver, messages they received when they were cloned by the goo. Of course, these “aliens” are contained by DHS to prevent exposure to the general public. But their overwhelming desire to deliver their message leads to trouble.
So, how does science enter? As you can read about me above, you’ll learn that I am a biochemist. When I started writing the first Sue story, Sue’s Fingerprint, I couldn’t simply have a substance with supernatural properties arrive without explaining what it was made of and how it works (as much as my tale of fiction would allow). So, using my formal training, I introduced the employees of a government contract laboratory to analyze and characterize the goo. They determined the substance was comprised of lipid bi-layers and membrane-bound proteins. They also found very complex DNA. Why did I go to the trouble? The scientist in me couldn’t give exclusive license to the author in me. I had to include a scientific explanation. And I explained the science in such a way that it is easy to understand, but not so complex that I put readers to sleep. I achieved my goal of educating my readers just a bit while entertaining them a lot.
The science doesn’t stop with the “goo”. In future posts, I’ll share the science behind the act of cloning, the DNA testing, and the astronomy behind the extinct alien species who sent the substance to Earth. “Alien species?” you ask. Yep! But you’ll have to come back and read future posts.
(Or you can buy my books and read for yourself! Thanks!)