The Science of The X-Files: Evil Eves and the Dangers of Human Cloning

Friday, 15 January 2016 - 5:34PM
Technology
Genetic Engineering
Friday, 15 January 2016 - 5:34PM
The Science of The X-Files: Evil Eves and the Dangers of Human Cloning
It's January, X-Files fans, which means we have less than a month to wait before our favorite alien conspiracy show returns for a six-episode miniseries. The pilot (which we saw at NYCC), airs on January 24th, but until then, we're going to give you daily articles about the fascinating science behind the X-Files, courtesy of science advisor Anne Simon and her book "The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants."

In the memorable monster-of-the-week episode, "Eve," Mulder and Scully discover a variation of the trusty homicidal children trope: adorable 8-year-old clones who kill indiscriminately. But unlike the ghost twins of The Shining, it's at least remotely possible that the Eves could exist in real life.

According to the episode, the Eves were cloned in the 1950s, and were genetically engineered to have extra chromosomes, which afforded them enhanced strength and intelligence, but also made them homicidal when they turned twenty. Simon points out that while scientists had cloned tadpoles by the time the 50s were over, the technology used transfer the nuclei in the cloning process was far too blunt to be used on relatively delicate mammalian eggs until the 70s. However, the cloning is meant to be a part of a government conspiracy, so within the X-Files universe, it makes sense that these scientists would have access to more advanced technologies than the public knew about ("this is what puts the fiction into science fiction," as Simon puts it).

But timing aside, it is physically possible to produce eight clones with extra chromosomes. Adding extra chromosomes to an egg "doesn't require much in the way of technology," as it simply involves injecting the chromosomes into the egg's nucleus. Then, in order to create more than one baby with the same anomaly, the egg would need to be multiplied into eight separate eggs, which is not only possible, but could have been performed in the 1950's (even without the help of CSM and alien technology). They could have fertilized the egg with a sperm, allowed it to multiply in a petri dish, and then, at the eight-cell embryo stage, tease each cell apart so each single cell can develop into a full human being. 

However, these children would likely not be born, and if they were, it would likely be with horrible defects that would be fatal long before the age of eight, similar to poor Baby Peacock. Extra chromosomes almost always lead to death, with the exception of multiple copies of chromosome 21, which leads to Down Syndrome. So it doesn't make any sense that the Eves would survive, let alone be enhanced by, extra chromosomes.

However, genetic manipulation is well within our reach, and many scientists believe that human cloning is already possible. And genetic studies of aggression support the thesis that certain genes contribute to aggression, although it is a multi-gene process that is not yet well-understood. So if in the future, when we have mapped out the genome a little better, the government were to attempt to create supersoldier clones by manipulating the genes involved with aggression, it's conceivable that we could have homicidal children on our hands (although they probably wouldn't start killing at any particular age). 

The X-Files also engaged with contemporary concerns about germline editing. In the episode, the eight-year-old clones are created using the cells of one of the original Eve clones, Sally Kendrick, who modified her own cells to eliminate the homicidal tendencies while maintaining strength and intelligence. 

Opening quote
Sally had good intentions when she tried to correct the mental abnormalities present in the Eves, but learns too late the uncertainties that may be associated with germ-line gene therapy. What she succeeded in doing was creating eight-year-old full-fledged homicidal monsters."
Closing quote

With the advent of technologies like CRISPR, modifying the germline is becoming more and more of a possibility, with Chinese scientists claiming that they modified the genomes of human embryos last year. This led to a huge controversy, with many calling the experiments dangerous and unethical, particularly since there may be unforeseen consequences to germline editing for future generations. There was even a call from the White House for a moratorium on human genome editing, citing these same concerns:

Opening quote
Research along these lines raises serious and urgent questions about the potential implications for clinical applications that could lead to genetically altered humans. The full implications of such a step could not be known until a number of generations had inherited the genetic changes made - and choices made in one country could affect all of us.
Closing quote

Of course, the White House is probably worried about the resurgence of genetic diseases or emergence of new ones, rather than the creation of tiny supersoldier murderers, but you never know.

Also in this series:

Alien Conspiracy Probably Wasn't a Hoax" href="http://www.outerplaces.com/science/item/10919-the-science-of-the-x-files-why-the-alien-conspiracy-probably-wasn-t-a-hoax" target="_blank">The Science of The X-Files: Why the Alien Conspiracy Probably Wasn't a Hoax

The Science of The X-Files: Chernobyl, Genetic Hybridism, and the Science of the Flukeman

The Science of The X-Files: The Real-Life Biology of Parasitic Ice Worms from Outer Space

Earth on a Meteorite?" href="http://www.outerplaces.com/science/item/10874-the-science-of-the-x-files-can-extraterrestrial-life-survive-a-trip-to-earth-on-a-meteorite" target="_blank">The Science of The X-Files: Can Extraterrestrial Life Survive a Trip to Earth on a Meteorite?

The Science of The X-Files: The Black Oil Virus and Pathogens That Make You Commit Suicide

The Science of The X-Files: That Time Scientists Claimed They Found Extraterrestrial Life in Meteorites

The Science of The X-Files: Leonard Betts and the Science of Head Regeneration

The Science of The X-Files: How Baby Peacock from "Home" Could Actually Exist

The Science of The X-Files: Alien Acidic Blood and the Real-Life "Toxic Lady"
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