With the Unicorn's exclusive viewing of the new Star Trek movie only hours away (Pre-Review: its going to be awesome), the blog content explosion must continue. Today, we analyze another biology themed TNG episode: "Identity Crisis."
As Synthetic Biologists™ we know that completely rewriting the DNA of an organism is fun and anyone can do it. All you need is years of expertise and millions of dollars. In the future, any yahoo with a tricorder and a Galaxy-class starship can do the same.
On stardate 44664.5, we discover that members of Geordi LaForge's old crew abord the USS Victory are mysteriously disappearing. Upon realizing that all those disappearing were all members of a mission to an unexplored planet, Geordi and the Enterprise return to investigate (always a bad idea). They find a planet full of mysterious aliens that are invisible to the naked eye. Here's the shocking twist: some of those aliens are actually the former crew members, who got infected when they visited the planet. The aliens reproduce by a method much more efficient than sexual reproduction: infected visitors have their DNA rewritten over a number of years, and once the transformation is nigh, the infected people experience an uncontrollable urge to return to the planet. During the investigation, Geordi transforms into an alien, ditches his clothes, and runs around naked on the planet's surface. With time running out in the episode, Data decides that its time he gets involved, devises a way to detect the invisible aliens, and Dr. Crusher resets all of Geordi's DNA to its original state in time for supper.
Lessons learned about rewriting DNA:
- Why have sex when you can create an overly elaborate virus? (the aliens must have been lovelorn synthetic biologists)
- It can make you invisible (I believe that this was accomplished via GFP and the Lac promoter)
- It can induce uncontrollable urges (there's a Pon Farr joke in there somewhere)
- Its easy to do and undo (we're still working on the second part)
Thursday, May 7, 2009
So there you have it. I have more thoughts on Star Trek, but its time to get in line for the new movie!