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

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 - 5:23PM
Weird Science
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 - 5:23PM
The Science of The X-Files: Chernobyl, Genetic Hybridism, and the Science of the Flukeman
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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."

One of the X-Files' most famous monsters-of-the-week (perhaps the most famous monster-of-the-week, was a half-human, half-fluke genetic freak named Flukeman known affectionately by the cast and crew as "Flukey." When creating the Flukeman, Chris Carter was inspired by two events: his dog suffering from worms, and the infamous Chernobyl disaster. According to Mulder and Scully's hypothesis, and as confirmed by a later X-Files comic, Flukeman was created in the Chernobyl disaster when he was trapped in a sewerage tank and exposed to high levels of radiations and flatworms. The radiation caused the fusion of the flukes' DNA with a humans, and a very disgusting humanoid was born.

Although this is clearly not very plausible, even for science fiction, it is true that radiation can cause genetic defects. After Chernobyl, the high levels of radiation in the environment led to strange genetic mutation in the surrounding wildlife. Chromosomal changes were common in plant and animal species; swallows in the area, for example, had a much higher incidence of genetic deformities including partially albinistic plumage, deformed toes, tumors, deformed tail feathers, deformed beaks, and deformed air sacks.

However, radiation doesn't cause genetic monsters, it simply makes the incidence of genetic mutations that already exist much higher. So no amount of radiation could randomly fuse your genetic material with a flatworm and turn you into a flukelike creature.

But to make it sound a little more scientific, Anne Simon suggested that Carter put forth genetic hybridism as an explanation, which is a very real phenomenon. Mules are a cross between horses and donkeys, for example, ligers are a cross between lions and tigers, and so forth. But these combinations occur between species that have relatively similar genomes, which would not be the case for humans and flukes.

Opening quote
"While plants can form fertile hybrids between species... hybrid animals are rare and sterile... Creatures like Flukeman and human-animal hybrids in fictional stories like H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau are pure fantasy."
Closing quote

Also in this series:

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

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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