BA- Communication & Journalism- University of Washington, Seattle
Thriller Sub-genre: Techno-thriller/horror
Publisher: Self-published through Salmon Bay Books
The Simon Review
For those of you looking for a review of a series, this is going to seem like a review of just one book, and that would be because, at the moment there is only one book in the series. Dale Kutzera asked me to review his book, Bio-Adversity, with the promise that there will be more Taylor Foss CDC Investigation novels on the way and because it has a cool looking cover and a promo line of “X-Files with a medical twist”, how could I say no. After reading Bio-Adversity, the ending was set up in such a way that I do believe Kutzera is not pulling my leg.
Bio-Adversity begins with a meth addict delivering a baby in a rural part of Washington State; well at, least not any baby that any of us have seen. Sajay Patel, the poor doctor who delivered this baby, was concerned that the birth of this infant was not something that should ever happen and decides to contact the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and Taylor Foss is the lucky investigator to arrive on the scene. Foss is not the only one to arrive, but two other visitors have been called in who are members of an activist group called Bio-Adversity, whose mission is to stop corporations that damage the environment in such a way that it results in mutations of the surrounding wildlife. What Foss and Bio-Adversity find is worse than anything they can imagine.
In the heart of this story is the evil scientist whose ambitious goals override any concern of the damage done due to his scientific errors and the horror that it ensues. The mad scientist plot device has been around since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is the bane for all the rest of us “normal scientist” out there. Yet still there is a low probability that the normal scientist could turn rogue. Recently, I found this comment by “weaseldust” on a forum which I think should be required reading for all new graduate students entering the sciences:
Signs you’ve become a mad scientist:
– When you stop calling the people who staff your laboratory “grad students” and start calling them “minions” instead.
– Likewise, when you use “base” vs “department”, or “chief of staff” vs “director of human resources”.
– When doing your hair in the morning requires 1000 volts but no conditioner.
– When the number of burn marks or bloodstains on your white coat exceeds the number of coffee stains.
– When your inventions are labelled with any of the prefixes super-, mega-, death-, psychic-, or, with the obvious exceptions, space-.
– When your laboratory is located in any of the following: a cave, a castle, a dungeon, a zeppelin, or a geodesic dome.
– When any part of your equipment requires being struck by lightning to function.
Seriously, Kutzera does raise some interesting points in relation to irresponsible science particularly in the realm of genetic engineering. The vast majority of scientists pursue ethical and rational approaches to the projects they explore, but with competition for funding and recognition, along with the lack of government oversight, especially in developing countries, problems could arise. At present, considerable concern is in the areas of agriculture and the environment with GMOs and genetically altering pollutants. But the major apprehension lies in genetic manipulation of humans and the potential for eugenics. There is positive uses for genetic engineering in humans, such as genetic repair of defective genes at the embryonic level. Repair of genes that cause disorders such as Down’s syndrome, Tay – Sachs disease, and many others through genetic engineering is a real possibility.
I think that Dale Kurtzera has a good start to a series as long as he works out the issues with the science (see What about the science?). For those of you into techno-thrillers with an element of horror then Bio-Adversity will be a pleasant distraction.
What about the science? Dale Kutzera is not a scientist and unfortunately it shows. Any lab rat that reads the following passage will, I’m sure, have a hissy fit.
It had the cluttered, utilitarian vibe of every lab Taylor had been in since her undergrad years. Filing drawers and cabinets lined the walls while large tables occupied the center. Several were raised chest high so work could be done standing or sitting on high stools. She recognized the Beckman microphages, Mettler scales and Biosystems sequence detection units, having used the same equipment in Atlanta.
The Beckman microphages mentioned in this passage should be Beckman microfuges, important difference. A microfuge is a small centrifuge used to centrifuge small volumes of liquid whereas a phage is a virus that infects bacterial cells. This glaring mistake along with a few other comments (see technical word in review) makes it difficult for those of us that work in the sciences to take any of the technical points in this book seriously. I must emphasize to any would-be writers out there that write about scientific ideas or methodologies and are not scientists, please find a scientist to review your work before you publish, because I can guarantee you that there will be scientists out there that will read your work and then will later review your book and are not as kind as I am.
The Taylor Foss Technical Word in Review: Gene Gun-When molecular biologist intentionally introduce foreign DNA into the genome of an organism the process is referred to as transfection and there are a number of methodologies that can be used to get DNA inside a cell. One method is the use of the gene gun, also known as the Biolistic Particle Delivery System, to shoot nanoparticles carrying DNA molecules into a cell.
The gene gun was invented in the mid-1980s by Cornell University plant geneticists John Sanford and Theodore Klein along with their engineering team that comprised of Ed Wolf and Nelson Allen. The idea of the gene gun came about because plant cells have a tough cell wall and other methods of transfection at the time could not get foreign DNA past the cell wall particularly with certain plant species such as corn. The early prototype of the gene gun used an air pistol with later prototypes using a modified .22 caliber nail gun cartridge. When the cartridge was discharged, it propelled a nylon bullet carrying tungsten powder coated with the foreign DNA down a short barrel which collides with a stopping plate. When the bullet collides with the plate, it releases and propels the tungsten DNA coated particles into a vacuum chamber which then collides with a petri dish harboring the targeted sample. Any target cells that are penetrated with the foreign DNA will sometimes incorporate the foreign DNA into its own DNA makeup which results in transfection.
(Image Courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of American History)
My husband was a graduate student in Sanford’s lab when the gun was being developed and has a number of humorous stories related to its development. One story involved a member of the secretarial staff that gave out a loud hoot every time the gun was fired. It was a process that happened numerous times during the day, a loud bang and then a hoot.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Since the original prototypes, various modifications have been made that are being used in the models currently available today, including a hand-held version of the gun, which really looks like a gun, known as the Helios system from Bio-rad. Materials other than DNA, such as RNA and dyes, can be introduced into the cells using the gun. Originally designed to be used on plants, the gun is now used on many other cell types, including human cells.
(Image from Bio-rad)
Her mouth suddenly parched, struggled to form words. She hoped she was mistaken, but every instrument in the lab told her the horrible truth. Thermo cyclers, gel boxes, and a gene pulse electroprator had no business in a facility dedicated to inseminating cows. Spectrophotometers and a luminometer were only used in genetic engineering. Most telling was the gene gun sitting in one corner. Such a biolistic particle delivery mechanism was only used to insert new genetic material into a virus. The virus, stripped of its own harmful genes, would then deliver then new ones to their target.–Bio-Adversity
I have several problems with the above passage and they are:
- There is no such thing as an electroprator but there is something known as an electroporator.
- Spectrophotometers and luminometers are used in many areas of science not just genetic engineering.
- The gene gun is not used to get foreign DNA into a virus, there are plenty of other methods that can do that more easily. The gene gun is one method of transfection whereas using viruses is another separate method.
Books in the Series by Order:
Janet Macpherson clutched her swollen belly as Patrick Anders, her common-law husband, sped down Main Street to the Orielle Clinic.
Taylor Foss: Investigator with the Center of Disease Control
Sajay Patel: Physician for Orielle’s clinic
Russell Deaver: Graduate student at University of Oregon School of Medicine and member of Bio-Diversity
Minnow: Bio-Adversity member
Desmond Holland: Geneticist
Okanogan County, Washington State
“It’s X-Files with a medical twist.”
Fans of Michael Crichton and William Gibson will love this techno-thriller.
Taylor Foss, an investigator with the CDC’s Special Pathogens Division, is sent to a small northern town to investigate a bizarre case of birth defects. There she uncovers a plot to change human genetics forever. This break-neck page-turner is packed with action, plot-twists, and compelling ideas based on medical science in use right now.
“This is about the people fighting back,” said the woman. “This is about corporations polluting our world and making billions in the process. We are the sharp tip of the spear. We are the vanguard of the coming war between corporations and mother earth. We are Bio-Adversity.”
“Bio-Adversity. You haven’t heard of Bio-Adversity? Where have you been?”
Taylor shook her head. “Is that like Earth Liberation Front?”
Amazon Rating-US: not rated
Amazon Rating-UK: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars based on 4 ratings
Barnes & Nobel Rating: not rated
Library Rating: not rated
Total Score 3.75 (updated 8/16/16)