As most everyone who reads the newspapers these days will be aware, DNA technology and cloning genes (isolating and obtaining the DNA for a specific gene) is on the cutting edge of science. Almost every week a new gene is cloned, its DNA sequence determined, and its function discovered. Discoveries of genes that cause specific diseases, even some cancers (such as breast cancer), are being made on a regular basis. The gene that is discovered in the present story is, at present, fictional. It is a gene that promotes the aging process, and therefore, it promotes death. The flip side of the gene is that if its action is turned off by a new drug, as it is in the story, it stops aging and allows an unlimited life-span. Neither the discovery of such a gene, or its manipulation by a drug, are at all far-fetched. In fact, it can be anticipated that such a gene probably will be discovered sooner or later. This is a story about what happens when such a gene, and a way to turn it off, are discovered. Story Line It all started with something seemingly trivial, the interruption of the usual behavior of the pet mice in Dr. Al Grogan’s laboratory. A world-class physician-scientist in his mid-fifties, Grogan has been spending long evenings in his lab and office trying to solve a riddle. Why had one of his discoveries, a promising new long-acting contraceptive called DNA-C129, quit working? The unusual squeaks and sounds of protest from the mice interrupted Grogan’s concentration. The reason the mice are disturbed is obvious. Maria, Grogan’s new lab assistant, an attractive lady in her late thirties, has disturbed the mice by peering closely at them. Initially disgruntled at the interruption, Grogan nevertheless demonstrates to Maria a trick he had taught the mice. Maria asks about the age of the mice and Grogan says they’re maybe four years old, since they were part of the original DNA-C129 experiments. Maria, who has had considerable experience studying mouse aging, contradicts her boss, saying that mice of this strain simply don’t live that long. In human terms, they would be the equivalent of two-hundred years old! Grogan, who now realizes he isn’t very well-informed about mouse life-span, tells Maria he was probably mistaken about the age of the mice. But he knows they are really about four years old, and his mind starts churning excitedly about some of the possible effects of DNA-C129, and about the reason it may have stopped working. With this new clue, things begin to snap into place in Grogan’s mind. DNA-C129 had quit working when he had lost his junior partner, a younger man named Bowdler, who had been carrying out the actual experiments under Grogan’s general supervision. Bowdler had been killed in an auto accident. Grogan now realizes that DNA-C129 has antiaging properties, and probably owes its long-lasting effects to Bowdler doing an “outlaw experiment”, namely using an illegal vector (the viral-like particle that delivers the therapy DNA), one that had not been authorized by Grogan. The keys to DNA-C129 effects, including its antiaging effects, no doubt lay not only in its own innate properties, but in the vector Bowdler had used. With Bowdler’s death, and with Grogan now using the standard vector, DNA-C129 had lost its properties in Grogan’s experiments. During the next four months the Grogan lab becomes a beehive of activity as Grogan sets out to test these ideas. As the work goes on, a romance develops between Grogan and Maria. However, Grogan is very secretive about the purpose of the experiments, even with Maria. He works for a modest-sized biotech company, in Madison, Wisconsin, called DNA Unlimited, and he doesn’t trust management. He codes all the results, and mixes up the experiments in such a manner that no single technician has a complete picture of the studies and the results. During this time Grogan places regular calls to a former student, and current best friend, Kirk Starge
George Brewer is a physician and Professor of Human Genetics and Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. His research has touched on many diverse fields of medicine and genetics, and led to extensive publications in the medical literature. Recently, he has turned his attention to writing medical thrillers, such as The Death Gene, which push a scientific idea a little beyond the envelope of current capability, and then builds a story around these new developments. Besides The Death Gene, Dr. Brewer has written another medical thriller novel, I.D., which is also published by Xlibris.