continued from previous
She closed the notebook shut with a single, slow but decisive hand movement. She kept on staring at it for a few seconds, almost in a comatose state, as she tried to wake up from her daydream. How could it be that the entire world was sitting inside a notebook, in a drawing, on a random page – waiting to be discovered? How many other worlds stayed buried like this without the slimmest chance that they will ever be “unearthed”? This might have just been the reason why she became a scientist, Olivia thought to herself. She always liked “unearthing” things. And the morning was slipping away fast. It was time to get to work and look at some fresh results together with her lab partner.
“My intern bioinformatician, who by the way is a complete genius, has been exploring your theory” – she said to John, who raised his eyebrows in interest.
“Have a seat” – she pointed to a chair next to her as she sat in front of the computer, clicking on the file that Sophia, the intern, had sent her. John sat down holding his takeaway espresso with both hands as the program loaded.
“So far we’ve looked at the mRNA profiles of around 29 different fast-mutating species within The Veil: at least the ones we have discovered so far, whether they are phytoplankton, foraminifera, some of the archaea-like bacteria we found, or other.”
“We then compared these transcription profiles to normal, pre-Veil profiles from about 2,000 other similar marine organisms that we already had in our database. Think of this as the mRNA profile of the ocean before, and after The Veil.”
“Aha, go on” – said John, eager to see what the search had found.
“Well, there appear to be several genes lighting up in the fast-mutating species vs their wild-type counterparts. As you can imagine, lots of stress response pathways have been triggered across all organisms living in The Veil, so Sophie had to do a lot of work to remove the usual suspect sequences that are part of a stress response, programmed cell death etc. etc. What we have been left with after all that data cleaning and sorting is a few interesting transcripts that are, well, mysterious to say the least. Some of them are being transcribed for the first time ever in our records, and from DNA regions that were pretty much marked up as junk up to this day. They belong within vast stretches of DNA where no genes are known to exist, yet these transcripts are obviously produced from these regions in such huge quantities. Now, check this out: a couple of these mystery transcripts are common to at least 25 of the 29 fast-mutating species. In fact, one of them has been detected, albeit at varying frequencies, pretty much across all species”
“Very interesting” said John. “This mRNA may not even translate into a protein. It may be a signaling molecule in itself – who knows – it may even just be a spanner in the works, an inhibitor of the DNA polymerase complex that increases DNA replication error and makes all these species mutate faster. If this is true, then we all potentially have a disaster gene encoded in each and every one of our cells. It would mean that disaster is part of our DNA”
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George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books