Beware of man-made monsters created in laboratory

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Genetic modification has been a horror in literature and the media for a generation; from Wyndham’s Triffids to Knight’s Zombies, Herbert’s Rats to Boulle’s Gorrillas. Yet grey ooze has failed to devour the countryside, and GM corn can actually be quite tasty. Does that mean our fears are groundless?


In 2001 the New Scientist reported that researchers had isolated a gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm – Planarian schmidtea mediterranea.

Like other planarians, Schmidtea mediterranea exhibits an extraordinary ability to regenerate lost body parts. For example, a planarian split lengthwise or crosswise will regenerate into two separate individuals.

Isolating genes has become routine, but results remain sensitive due to the potential for commercial exploitation and success could yield extreme rewards.

A gene for regeneration is a case in point. If ageing could be stopped or even reversed, and diseased or damaged organs regrown, life could be extended well beyond a natural span. No longer would you expect to retire and wait for death. You might remain fulfilled and active for ever, your worn out parts simply regrown and replaced.

At an office somewhere around about now, a lead scientist is telling the board how to turn a Genetic Modification for regeneration into a product that can be injected directly into the bloodstream by recombining human DNA with that of the planarian.

“The key to the entire treatment is the flatworm. In 1999 a project at Utah University discovered that silencing the flatworm’s smedwi-2 gene switched on an ancient ability for regeneration. But the team was unable to establish which genes were responsible for differentiating the re-growing stem cells into the correct body parts. After all, we don’t want muscle cells growing in the eyes, or cardiac cells turning up in the neural cortex.”

“My team has expanded their work and isolated the accountable genes. This gives a mechanism for continuously repairing old or damaged tissues. Potentially forever.”

“The regeneration genes are inserted into the retro-virus T156 and incubated in Xeno pigs kept in sterile conditions. The pigs have a perfect human immune response. They are the manufacturing plant for the virus. Within two weeks of infection, each pig harbours billions of viruses in every organ of its body.”

“We harvest the active agent by separating the pig tissues from the virus. It is a remarkably low-tech process, mostly concerned with agriculture and swine herding.”

“The harvested virus is injected directly into the blood stream where it will be taken up by a small percentage of cells. The protein subsequently synthesised, switches latent regenerative introns into activity, and it is this function which causes damaged organs to repair.”

Is this scenario fiction?Very early in the development of recombinant DNA techniques, the public feared that mad scientists would create GMOs (genetically modified organisms) with unanticipated and potentially dangerous properties; grey ooze would flood the country side devouring everything in its path.

The concern led to a proposal for a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research in 1974, and to a meeting in 1975 at the Asilomar Conference Centre in California.

Participants at Asilomar agreed to safety standards, including the use of disabled bacteria that were unable to survive outside the laboratory. While this conference quelled much of the media frenzy  it also led to a rapid expansion of powerful technologies.

That was nearly forty years ago!

Since then the human genome has been completely decoded by Craig Venter, and a host of Genetically modified organisms have been released into the environment, particularly for use in agriculture.

While nobody is yet claiming to have created a GM human, the technology exists and is certain, one day, to be put into practice.



Why you should get angry at the world

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In the seventies there didn’t seem to be any conspiracies. Sure, the local butcher was caught injecting the chicken with water to make more pounds per pound, but it was hardly an international bugger-the-proles kind of event. Nowadays, however, you can’t look at the headlines without the busting of a conspiracy. Have we all become experts in finding the truth, or is something else going on?

When John Bray, the local butcher, was convicted of bringing the roast chicken dinner into disrepute by injecting carcasses with brine and selling them at inflated prices, it was treated as a bit of a joke by the chattering community of Berkshire. No one was really harmed, and the extra money helped Mr Bray pay his mortgage and put an extra pork chop on the table. It was the kind of crime more beloved of the back pages of the Maidenhead advertiser than the front page of the Financial Times, and most people didn’t really begrudge the man.
global conspiracy of chicken injecting
You could hardly call it a conspiracy. Perhaps Mr Bray and his wife got together and that would constitute some kind or conspiracy, but that’s the seventies. The biggest conspiracy theory I recall causing any excitement was MI5’s involvement in ousting the Wilson government, and that was never proven.

Planet sized fraud
Now, you only have to open the paper to find a planet-sized conspiracy that seems, or really is, true: burning fossil fuels to open up the North West shipping passage through the arctic; poisoning bees to make profits from insecticides; nuclear power as a sop to foreign governments; Doctor’s being goaded, to give cause for breaking up the NHS – conspiracies are too numerous to count, and that’s just one day in the Guardian.

That’s without the really famous ones. There’s scarcely a better example than Alistair Campbell’s sexed up dossier; the Iraq invasion based on dubious intelligence and making-up evidence to fit the already-decided policy for regime change. Over 600,000 lives lost – according to the Lancet  – based on the slip of a Press Officer’s pen and the ability to twist a headline or two.

Let’s not forget the Collateralised Debt Obligations creating a destructive merry go round in the financial markets and a lost decade for most of the western world. Twenty-two trillion dollars wiped out, austerity for the masses, and a return to polarised politics of the thirties.

The fact these conspiracies have been unmasked has done nothing for the public’s trust in politicians or for trust in the establishment in general, to say the least.

It’s not the guy in the turban

We could, and should, get angry. Not just angry, fucking incensed. But instead many of us are caught blaming the coloured man next door, or the chap with the eastern accent, or that woman wearing a strange swim suit, as if they were responsible for screwing the world’s financial market or for single handedly melting the ice caps with a hair dryer.
Yes, local injustice still exists, but a simple fraud can have global consequences in a way that was not previously possible.

Don't blame the neighbours

The great chicken conspiracy

And so we return to Mr Bray the butcher. His crime was unremarkable even in its local effect and apart from a few pence, did very little to harm to anybody. But in 2013 the UK’s Guardian reported, “Frozen chicken breasts on sale in leading supermarkets are being pumped up with water and additives that make up nearly a fifth of the meat to the point where consumers are paying about 65p a kilo for water…”

The Bray’s simple conspiracy has been exported across the world by faceless organisations that trade without boundaries and without a home jurisdiction.

Within half a lifetime we have allowed a world where petty crime is the standard for international business. The slightly offensive local has become the obscenely global.
For the love of Sunday roast, we’re all in the chicken poo now.

If you liked this conspiracy, you’ll love the one in Generation. By it on Amazon.

Conspiracy thriller with an injection of horror




Your readers will love the rich taste of good eating

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Eating starts and ends all the events in Generation, from the tarmac table of the opening scene to the al fresco irony of the final twist. But to describe these bracketing meals as cosy dinners for two would be to misunderstand the relationship between the food and the eater.


I’d not given it a whole lot of thought before, but when Shelly Workinger asked me to write a guest blog that focused on the eating habits of my characters I discovered that food and eating cut a path right through Generation as if I’d thought about it.

Because that’s the funny thing about writing. You never know what you put in, and it’s up to the reader to pull it out for you and tell you what you really wrote about.

So when I discovered that Hendrix Harrison often stopped for a hamburgers and lettuce drowning in mayonnaise or that Sarah Wallace (the rather too smart entomologist) controlled her students by bringing them, “…something to eat to stop you leaving the chair…” I realised the characters really did have a life of their own that was not planned on a spreadsheet or even intended. It’s as if they made their own choices. This is the sort of thing they talk about in writing books.

Actually, I feel quite proud now.

So please take a peek at Shelly’s blog, and leave a comment. It means a lot to us writers if you get involved.