The Science of The X-Files: "2Shy" and the Science of Vampires Who Suck Fat Out of Your Body

Tuesday, 19 January 2016 - 2:27PM
Weird Science
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 - 2:27PM
The Science of The X-Files: "2Shy" and the Science of Vampires Who Suck Fat Out of Your Body
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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."

Every 90s show had the requisite fear-mongering "dangers of online dating" episode (let us all remember "I Robot, You Jane"). For The X-Files, it was "2Shy." In this wonderfully retro third season episode, a monster-of-the-week named Virgil Incanto finds a woman online, takes her out on a date, kisses her, and unleashes some kind of digestive juice into her mouth that liquefies her insides.

Mulder and Scully arrive on the scene, and find that the woman has been completely robbed of all of her fats and body oils, and find traces of digestive material that is similar to the substance secreted by cells in the stomach, as well as pepsin, a digestive enzyme. They also find that the killer's skin cells don't contain any oils or fatty acids, and come to the only logical conclusion: the killer was, as Scully put it, "a vampire who sucks fat instead of blood."

So in addition to the enzyme pepsin, which is a real digestive enzyme, what could fulfill the requirements of the vaguely characterized "digestive juice" that dissolved all of the fats in a woman's body? Chloroform would be a good candidate, as it is a solvent for pure fats and oils but not for proteins, sugars, nucleotides, and other cellular material. But according to Simon, it would need to be a mixture of several chemicals, as there are many different types of fats in the body, some of which do not dissolve in chloroform. So Incanto would need to use acid and pepsin to break up the internal tissue, and add methanol to the mix, which separates fats from other types of tissue, then suck it out manually. Lovely, right?

Disturbingly enough, there is plenty of inspiration to be drawn for "predigestion" (ew) from the animal kingdom. Scully gives the example of scorpions, which spew enzymes and other salivary substances onto their prey to soften them before having a meal. And starfish eat animals with hard shells such as oysters and clams by extruding their stomachs, secreting digestive enzymes to soften the shells, and then swallowing the food and their stomach to continue digesting.

But could a predigesting human like Virgil Incanto ever exist? Technically, a human could be born without the ability to make their own fats or oils. Fatty acids are created in a single metabolic pathway that consists of seven enzymes. So if a fertilized egg had mutations in both versions of the gene required to make any of these seven enzymes, it wouldn't have the ability to make its own fatty acids and would, in fact, need to ingest the fat from others.

However, this fetus wouldn't even develop from the fertilized egg, as this development requires fatty acid production, so it would take many other mutations for the mother to provide all of the fats needed to carry the baby to term. And then many other mutations would be necessary once the baby was born to afford it the ability to produce and sequester the fats from others. So all in all it is technically, physically "possible," but so unlikely that it is a moot point, which should be a comfort on your next Tinder date.

"I wouldn't spend time worrying about that next kiss," Simon writes. "The need for so many mutations in so many genes to generate so many new functions will thankfully confine such mutant monsters to the safety of your television screen." Also in this series:

The Science of The X-Files: Could Extraterrestrials Use Bees to Proliferate an Alien Virus?

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

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

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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