Behind-the-Scenes Science in ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT
For the last thirty-three years, the dinner table conversations in our house has centered around cloning, stem cells, MRSA, and H1N1—that’s what happens when a nurse marries a doctor, and their son becomes a biochemist. When we’re around our medical friends, the talk often turns to the future of science—and also the history of diseases. For a writer, this is great fodder for a paranormal novel.
When I began writing ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT, I wanted to honor the immortals’ mythology, but I also wanted to give it a twist. Like most predators, the vampires in AWTN have a biological edge. They are physically attractive. Their brains are more developed than a human’s—some are quite gifted with telepathy. They are physically superior. They run faster, never become ill, and heal at an extraordinary rate.
But my main character was an ex-historian, presently working as a London tour guide. She wouldn’t know a test tube from a turnip. Luckily, Jude Barrett walked into the book and told me to stop fretting. Not only was he a biochemist, he’d worked at a pharmaceutical company in Yorkshire, conducting research on mice, and he’d discovered something extraordinary.
Here’s a peek at his research notes:
From Dr. Jude Barrett’s Laboratory Journal
HDL* research began today. I harvested stem cells from mice embryos. Next, I corrupted the genetic code via radiation.
After the addition of enzymes and growth factors, I was able to induce the stem cells to form tissues. This included skin, muscles, bone, liver, and nervous tissues.
Today the mutatated mice opened their eyes. Outwardly, they appear identical to the control mice, except their growth rate is 30% faster than the control. Also, their behavior is markedly different. They are aggressive, light-sensitive, and will not eat or drink.
Rule out porphyria.
The mutated mice are exhibiting physical changes. Their fur is thicker and longer. Both the males and females are hypersexual.
The experimental mice appear to be hibernating and cannot be roused.
The control mice were introduced into the cages with the experimental mice. A breeding frenzy ensued. The experimental mice bit the control group and drank their blood. The control mice appeared to be dead. However, an hour later the control mice appeared normal.
The control mice are aggressive and hypersexual. They have an aversion to sunlight, food, and water.
Rule out virus.
I sedated the experimental mice and took biopsies from various organs. When I examined the tissues under the microscope, no abnormalities were found other than a profusion of stem cells. One mouse (Specimen X, male) has developed long upper incisors.
Specimen X was sedated, and I removed his liver. The exam showed ½ normal tissue and ½ stem cells.
Specimen X survived the surgery. He is running in his wheel. I have named him Prometheus.
Operated on Prometheus. I noticed a bud of tissue where the liver had been. Under the microscope, the tissue was teeming with primitive stem cells. They were rapidly forming a new liver.
Prometheus attacked one of the mutated mice and bit off its foot. I isolated the injured rodent (Specimen Z, male).
Specimen Z has grown a new foot. I’m gobsmacked. This extraordinary rejuvenating ability is reminiscent of the salamander, but it has never been reported in mice.
A strain of mycoplasma pulmonis has infected both hoards. The control group are exhibiting signs of respiratory distress, light-sensitivity, and congestion. The mutated mice appear to be immune. Could they have hyper-strong immune sytems?
Experiments have begun on the offspring of the mutated and control mice. When hybrid mice are bitten by the mutated specimens, a mild allergic response occurs in both the host and recipient. The human equivalent would be a reaction to a flu shot.
The lifespan of a mouse is approximately twelve months to three years. The control group are showing signs of aging, but the experimental strain are active, alert, and vibrant. They are more active nocturnally.
Today the experimental strain are two years old and still have not shown signs of disease of aging.
While sequencing the HDL gene in the stem cells, I discovered the gene that is responsible for the cell’s immortality. I am calling it R-99, the Resurrection Gene. If I’m able to obtain major funding, clinical trials can begin.
Later that year, Jude published his findings in an article in the British Scientific Journal. Here’s the abstract:
British Scientific Journal Review Article
Mechanisms of Disease:
Stem Cells and Transference of Gene
Jude F. Barrett, Ph.D.
It has been postulated that the longevity gene in mice is located near the gene that codes for high density lipoproteins. Mice were interbred for 20 generations with HDLs that were two standard deviations above the norm.
After twenty generations the mice exhibited 99% levels of HDL.
5% of the mice became aggressive. Blood analysis revealed a stem cell leukemia had developed. When placed in the cage with the control mice, the mutated hoard attacked and drank the blood of the control group. After one hour, the control mice revived and became aggressive.
There were other unusual findings in the experimental mice. They had extraordinary rejuvenation processes in all organs except the heart and brain. Also, the control mice that had been bitten developed stem cell leukemia with organ regenerative powers.
It is hypothesized that gene transfer occurred through stem cells. This novel method of transference may apply to other genes.
After Jude’s article was published, a burly, redheaded fellow showed up at the lab in Yorkshire. His name was Moose Tipper, and he claimed to be a headhunter for a London pharmaceutical company. But he seemed dodgy, rough and unpolished. He offered Jude two million dollars in exchange for his research notes.
Jude refused. But Moose Tipper wouldn’t leave. He stood beside the cages, watching the mice run in their wheels. Then he looked back at Jude.
“I suffer from the same condition as your mice,” Moose said.
Before Jude could answer, the man shot across the room and knocked Jude into an instrument tray. Everything clattered to the floor—forceps, scalpels, clamps. Jude grabbed a scalpel and plunged it into Moose’s carotid artery. Black, tarry blood streamed down the man’s shirt. He yanked out the scalpel and ran away.
Jude rang the police immediately. While he waited for them to arrive, he scraped tissue from the scalpel and put it under the microscope. The specimen was full of stem cells—very similar to the samples that Jude had taken from his mutated mice.
At this point, Jude realized that the R-99 gene existed in a subset of humans, a type that craved blood, was hypersensitive to sunlight, healed at an accelerated rate, and was basically immortal: Vampires.
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