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Genetic Engineering Makes the Blacklist

iStock_000003273676_LargeJames Spader was quirkily funny as Denny Crane’s partner on “Boston Legal,” but NBC’s “The Blacklist” has him operating totally outside of the law. He plays Raymond Reddington, an enigmatic figure who reveals to a black-ops FBI agent the evil doings of criminals that fly under the radar of normal law enforcement – and who make “The Blacklist.” A recent episode involved trying to catch a “mad scientist,” funded by a middle-aged tech billionaire to conduct research on human subjects for his “Longevity Initiative.” When the scientist is captured, oddly, one might think, his lab contains tanks of phosphorescent jelly fish and two bunnies that glow in the dark.

That’s when the plot began to seem a bit familiar. After all, Craig Venter, famed director of the Human Genome Project has started a company called “Human Longevity” that intends to locate genes that prolong life. The March 13, 2013 issue of Smithsonian contains a long article on a scientist studying bioluminescent sea animals including, guess what, jellyfish. In fact, the gene encoding the crystal jellyfish’s green fluorescent protein has been cloned into rabbits that will glow green in the dark. An FBI Scientist in on the raid of the hidden lab tells the heroine-agent that there is a jellyfish that has a gene that allows it to reverse the aging process when it is threatened by a predator. The “mad scientist” had been trying to reverse the effects of frontal lobe dementia in nursing home patients who, of course, all died, and were both kidnapped and disposed of by an ex-pharmaceutical company rep.

Years ago, a PR spokesperson for a large biotech company told the audience, including me, to purge the word “genetic engineering” from our vocabulary, even when discussing its most benign goals, like helping the eradicate world hunger. (Note that “Golden Rice” recently received a White House “Patents for Humanity Award” as one of the most important innovations of the biotech era. I bet that Greenpeace wasn’t cheering at that call.) But seriously, it was a bit disheartening to find such a coherent attack on even an outlier application of biotechnology.

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