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Biotoon

Chapter 3

The Bioshack



They came from all over the place. His home, the food he ate that afternoon, the food he ate over the last few weeks, people who sneezed at him in the bus. Wherever he went, someone jumped on.
Fascinating, Baci thought. Ties. Men still wore them and helped bugs travel around. Famous as the source of infection in hospitals. Forbidden in most labs. And here was Tie Guy, wearing a specimen that had apparently been inhabited by bacteria for ages. They entered a bursting blue Volvo. Tie guy tossed his bag on the seat beside him, paired his phone and set off. The soft afternoon sun shone through the panorama roof.

 

Dan, are you on your way?

Birger
Birger

Dan
Dan

Yes. Will be there in an hour.

 

 

(You have some new code for me?

Birger
Birger

Dan
Dan

Sure.

 

 

Cool.

Birger
Birger

 

You guys know what he is talking about?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Tie bug
Tie bug

Sure man, this is his favourite tie, we know it all. We were there when he did not get the promotion and we were there when he found out that his misses cheated on him. She’s hot. Jessica Rabbit type. And successful. Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, Courage in Journalism Award and whatnot.Tomorrow she’s flying out with a bunch of journalists to cover a Meeting in Venice. Set to interview Bill and Elon.

 

 

What code is he talking about?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Tie bug
Tie bug

Who knows

 

 

You were not curious?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Tie bug
Tie bug

Nah, he plays with code all day in different labs. Who cares? We’re just here for the ride

 
The car stopped. They could see a leafy canopy through the panorama roof. Dan got out of the car, shouldered his bag and then looked at himself in the reflection of the car mirror.

This was a historical moment. He adjusted the tie, his signature item. He loved the Finfrock knot, which reminded him of a blossom and he always picked a sunflower yellow color. Solid or with a tiny pattern. Ideally paired with a crisp blue shirt. The rolled-up sleeves revealed muscular arms of an action movie hero. He had shaved carefully this morning. The stubble was evenly cut like an English lawn, with a sharp edge. His curly blond mane was held up in a masterfully twisted manbun. The brain under the manbun had an IQ of 160 and was firing thoughts like crazy. It had built its muscle at Harvard, MIT and Stanford. A piece of educational art, gently swaying in liquor. The obsession and vanity center in his frontal lobe was prominent and signal-grabbing. Right now it was lapping up whatever the visual cortex could offer. He saw the image of a superhero: trained, groomed, clever, on a mission.

Another fashion victim scientist was leaning in the door of the shack in the woods striking a perfect pose for the Sartorialist. The upturned collar of his lab coat framed a boyish face, with a peachy soft stubble. The left eye was concealed by a loose and long fringe. The lab coat was cut so close to the slim body that it looked more like a summer blazer. Colorful lab tape was wrapped around his skinny pants. He nervously tapped his right foot in a blue leopard slipper and snipped the ashes from his joint. Whatever he was doing here, it was going out of hand. Initially thrilled by his famous neighbor’s agreement to help him with his lab project, he was getting impatient. He thought he would be setting up his own Genspace, but for a year he was not allowed to make the project public, always being told that it needed some more preparation to become the next cool initiative. Finally he came to realize that he had been used. And now it was too late. They entered into the shack. Inside it was a sparkling design lab, containing whatever cool gadget the free lab equipment market had to offer.

 

Hi Birger, how is your experiment progressing? Is the glowing plant growing?

Dan
Dan

Birger
Birger

Sure is. That was a game. What are we doing today?

 

 

Just a simple gene transfer, a colleague has given me an interesting insert that we should try out. Wanna help me?

Dan
Dan

Birger
Birger

What can it do?

 

 

Activate perfume production after cream is applied to skin.

Dan
Dan

Birger
Birger

Not just one scent? Truly genetically designed perfume? Cool.

 

 

Yep, a rehash of natural perfumes. Any bug, any base medium and it smells like perfume.

Dan
Dan

Birger
Birger

Cool. I could alter my gut microbiome and even my poop would smell nice.

 

 

It’s here for you to prove.

Dan
Dan
Dan set his bag on a bench top and while he was digging for a capsule in the pockets, Lord Baci could make his way off the tie onto the bench. His attempts to reach the microbiome headquarters in Dan’s gut via bactonet had failed. The connection was blocked. There was no way to establish contact and learn who was running the show in Dan’s gut.

Lord Baci used the draft coming from the shack window to float to the top of a Petri dish stack. The Colis inside the dish did not know much. They came from a Microorganism Bank and had spent most of their lifetime with Birger who had performed some of the standard teaching experiments with them. Sequencing, gene transfer, yield optimization. It seemed that he was testing a set of exercises he wanted to offer in his Bioshack.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

How often does Dag stop by?

 

 

Not so much, he mostly calls to check whether Birger has ordered all the stuff they want to have in the Shack.

Lab Coli
Lab Coli

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Did he ever speak about his wife?

 

 

The bombshell? She stopped by a few times. Took pictures of Dan and Birger to be posted on their future website. They want to offer courses in the Shack and have raised money from some Citizen Science fund. Dan and Lana had a big fight after he found out that she had an affair with an activist who opposed Dan’s research. It was at the same time when he learned that he would not get the promotion.

Lab Coli
Lab Coli

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

What promotion?

 

 

To run the Future Lab at the CDC.

Lab Coli
Lab Coli

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Oh, any connection?

 

 

He thinks so, his ego is crushed.

Lab Coli
Lab Coli
Dan finally found the capsule in the bag and brought it to the laminar flow hood. Then he sent off Birger to get some Sushi in the nearby village. Now he had 30 min to do what he had come to do. He opened the capsule, retrieved the Eppendorf tube and put it on the stand in the hood. Then he walked over to the bench and picked a Petri dish. They did not see him coming. There was no chance to get away. The lid of the Petri dish opened and the very next moment something penetrated Lord Baci’s membrane, something fierce. He could feel it when it lodged itself within his DNA. It was a sensation he knew from former bacteriophage attacks, only much stronger. He automatically activated the attack response systems, using one plasmid after the other, but none of the new equipment could rid him of the gene snippet that had been introduced into him. He realized, that it must be the piece of code he was looking for. It had lodged itself right beside his dormant virulence genes. Great. This thing could turn him into a vicious monster.

Dan looked at the tube in his hand with deep satisfaction. That would show them, he thought. His boss, who had stolen his CRISPR work and used it to get the promotion, his psychopath boss who thought that he could control everything. And Lana, the love of his life who cheated on him the very moment his star began to sink. He could not forgive her the affair with the Incredible Green Fleece Hulk, a guy who had no style at all! A guy who always wore a green fleece and hiking shoes. Or sandals! And certainly did not get a pedicure.
The Petri dish opened. A needle tip was inserted, Lord Baci and the Colis were transferred into a small cosmetics jar. With the lid closed they could feel that they were being tossed somewhere.

Dan put the Petri dish, tube and tip he had used for the transfer into the autoclave and started it. That would destroy any residual organic material clinging to the equipment. Then he picked up the biohazard capsule, which had contained the code he had found and prepared for the transfer. He walked out of the lab and pushed the red button on the capsule before throwing it on the gravel road in front of the shack. The capsule made a whizzing sound while the acid was released inside it and then it exploded. No trace remained. No one would know where the code came from, except for Dan, who had found it.

He walked back in, retrieved another capsule from his bag and set it out for Birger. Soon it would smell of roses inside the Shack. He was sure that Birger would enjoy the perfume experiments.

The next morning Dan exchanged his wife’s night cream jar with the one he had prepared in the lab. He slipped it into her handbag together with a handwritten note “Love you beautiful, XOX Dan”. Then he drove her to the airport. Elon’s jet was waiting for the small group of journalists who had been invited to the meeting. Slightly disappointed they realized that Elon was not on board. He had left for the World Health Security Meeting in Venice already. There would be nothing exciting to write in their notebooks for hours.
And then there would be more news than they had ever expected. Dan wanted the politicians to stop their verbal diarrhea and start acting. This infectious intermezzo would teach them that bioterrorism should be taken seriously. He had used the PandoraCRISPR that he had discovered to manipulate the bacteria in the jar. The infection would cause visually impressive, newsworthy symptoms, but it would taper off without really harming the individuals. This time.

The Green Fleece Hulk was beaming and prancing on the tarmac. For a second Dan contemplated to run him over with his car. Still, the thought that the guy would be eaten by bacteria soon was more satisfying. Dan was sure that the Hulk would follow Lana like a pilot fish, catching the bug-laced aerosols in her wake. And even if the Tesla plane had a bioweapon defense mode, it would not detect the truly bioactive beauty product. He looked at his ex-wife to be. Gorgeous. Terrifyingly smart. Her milky white skin tarnished by foreign fingerprints. She stood beside the car, her thoughts already on the days ahead, the wind playing in her white linen blouse. Dan slipped his arm around her waist and kissed her good-bye. He could still feel her lips on his when the plane took off and disappeared in the clouds.

Lab Coli
Lab Coli

Great. We are a freaking biohazard. My claim to fame.

 
Even worse. Since he did not expect a Bacillus subtilis in the Petri dish, the potential catastrophe was even greater. Coli could survive only a limited time outside of a nice warm body, but Baci belonged to a species that formed spores. In spore format microorganisms can survive heat, radiation, explosion, vacuum and are extremely difficult to eradicate. A famous example for the resistance of spores is Anthrax that had been used for bioweapon testing during the Second World War. The tests were performed on an island that remained under quarantine for 48 years because it could not be properly decontaminated. The Anthrax spores clung to the island well into the 1990ies

     
    




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