Wednesday, 15 January 2014

My Research Fun (or how to get infected)

I recently finished a short story featuring Gene Therapy applications. Your eyes might glaze over, but I found it fascinating!

For the purpose of my story, essentially, transgenes are inserted into cells via viruses for a beneficial purpose.

I love research.  I learn so many interesting things.  Enthralling. Engrossing. Mesmerising. Sometimes I get carried away, and find out I've spent hours and hours on all sorts of things.  It's a habit I wonder if I should curb or encourage.  Not sure.

Anyhow, back to introducing new DNA/RNA into cells via viruses.  If you were brave enough to click through to the Wikipedia article, you'd have discovered that all sorts of little issues prevent gene therapy from being a Really Useful Technology.  That's a shame. It's a fascinating concept.

It's a good thing I was writing a science fiction story. (Yeah, I write sci-fi too.)

Sci-fi is fun in that you can take some plausible science idea and "tweak" it a bit.  In real life, gene therapy isn't a wide-spread technology, but in my story it is.  Suspend your disbelief and play along at home.  This is why we call it science fiction and not science fact.  You want fact?  Go read Scientific American.  It's cool and is a hotbed for skiffy ideas.

In science fiction the science doesn't have to be exact, but it does have to be plausible. If, to 90% of the readers the science appears to work, they’ll suspend their disbelief and go with the flow.

Stories are about conflict.  Sci-fi takes an idea or a situation and posits, "What if?"

I had some conflict in that a certain number of cells required certain genes to make up for a default.  The best way to introduce those gene was by transduction with a virus. (Transfection, which is a cooler word, is the introduction of genes by a non-viral method. How disappointing. Not as sexy.)

Now, where'd the virus come from, and how do we prevent the body from wiping it out, as bodies are very good at doing?  Thus, an interesting quandary for the story.

The actual conflict comes between two biohacker sisters who are competing to get the best delivery method to save their dying mother.  Could I have written any old story about two competing sisters with a dying mother?  Sure.  But the fact that the potential to save her lies within their grasp adds just that extra bit more of emotional angst.

I also had a few other skiffy elements in the story, namely insurance company-mandated Humour Therapy and a Blues Club (complete with jazz) available by Rx only.

Her Grace is fond of science, especially Biology and most especially Astronomy. How could she not write sci-fi?  Wanna engage her interest? Talk to her about stars and other heavenly bodies. She'll accept the demotion of Pluto, only because it means the re-promotion of Ceres.  If only Rosalind Franklin was given the same love.

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