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ABOUT Gene Pool:
Night comes to Whitton Falls, and for Cate Somers, paleontologist and researcher, the university town she thought of as a safe harbor has an insidious element at work. Cate gradually becomes aware that there is a hidden presence, alien and cold and impossible to stop. Whoever or whatever is attacking local residents has an agenda that is accelerating.
Cate is called on to help in the investigation, along with the sheriff’s nephew, Wyatt, a homicide detective from New York. But everything she assumes about what is going on is altered when her biologist friend Emma analyzes metal objects found at the killing sites. The series of murders has left a trail of evidence that has its origins in a peculiar chemistry. Each one contains the attributes of anaerobic bacteria, the sort that NASA and ExoMars would expect to show up on other planets.
The rules of what is “real” no longer apply.
A woman stood up. Her tone was worried when she spoke.
“So what are mutations, then? Can we predict those, or are we at their mercy? Can we be altered and not know it?”
People turned toward her with interest. Her question offered a digression that was always more interesting to an audience, even a specialized audience. How well I knew.
“Mutations are different. They’re genetic changes,” I said, “actual alterations in the DNA. They can be spontaneous or induced by environmental factors. But to categorize them most succinctly, we can say there are two forms, really: mutations that are harmful and mutations that are beneficial. Deciding which is which, however, has become a somewhat subjective aspect of applied genetics. Someone has to determine if the mutation benefits the fitness—meaning survival—of the entity, promoting traits deemed useful, or whether it does the opposite, decreases the organism’s ability to be considered fit. As you can imagine, this can lead to conclusions based on what an individual scientist sees as beneficial or not. That translates into whether the scientist or anyone else sees the trait as useful, having visible application. Everything from pet theories—as Cope’s statement attests—to societal trends can be argued and supported, as you might imagine, not unlike politics.”
The audience laughed at that.
“The genetics are real enough, don’t get me wrong,” I continued, “but the applications can be flawed. We are human. It happens.” As an afterthought I added an answer to her last question. “And yes, we can be altered and not know it. Mutations can take a long time to happen, millions of years. But they can also occur suddenly, not only by natural means, but through genetic engineering, which is a whole other subject entirely, and requires a study of gene pools to ascertain what should be engineered and why.”
She didn’t look reassured.
I surveyed the engrossed crowd and smiled.
“Does anyone mind if I continue with revelations about paleontology for a few minutes?”
But it wasn’t to be. I would have to save my inspirations for another time, for at the back of the hall, waving her arms, Emma was trying to get my attention. Coming up beside her was Sheriff Tyler. He ran his finger across his throat. Time to stop.