Sunday, January 24, 2010


I saw Daybreakers the other night with my cartoonist husband. We both had a better time than we thought we would. I had such a good time in fact, that I can recommend this movie as very entertaining. I have to admit that I was the only one in the theater laughing at the projectile vomiting, but everyone joined in when the guy's head exploded.

Why would I laugh at projectile vomit? I'll tell you.

Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is a vampire hematologist hard-pressed to create a blood substitute for the world's vampire population, which is practically everybody. There are very few humans left and their blood is harvested to feed the starving masses (of vampires). Time is running out. Dalton's mission is humanitarian on two counts: he is trying to save the lives of the last human beings, and he's trying to prevent vampirekind from mutating into horror movie style vampires, which is the fate of any vampire who doesn't get human blood.

This starving vampire has degenerated into a more
monstrous form. Notice the elongated phalanges (finger bones).

In a scene early on in the movie, our hero has decided to push forward with his vampire subject trials, in his search for a synthetic "human" blood substitute that will save vampire populations from starvation. Dalton's non-beating heart is in the right place, but he really should have had an IRB(1) read his study proposal before he carried it out.

Dalton is in the lab with his study subject. They are about to see if the vampire subject's body accepts this new blood substitute. So what does Dalton do with this blood substitute? He injects it into this vampire. (Record skip noise goes here.) Yup! That's right. Dalton is testing a food product by injecting it intravenously. That's like putting someone on an IV drip that full of chocolate milkshake, or pureed cheeseburger. We have one seriously flawed study. There is no external validity here because most vampires are going to want to drink this blood. Who wants to shoot up their food? Sam Neill's character, Charles Bromely, will back me up on this.

Chis (Vince Colosimo) and Edward reflect on whether or not soaking
fabric in cold water will get rid of vomit stains.

Needless to say, the whole clinical subject scene sent me into a fit of giggles(2). How would I test a synthetic food product for nutrition and safety? I'd feed it to someone. Food, be it liquid or solid is chemically altered by digestive enzymes the moment you put it in your mouth. Your saliva has enzymes in it that start breaking down carbs before you can even say "Pass the ketchup" with your mouth full.

From your mouth, the food makes its way through the long tube that is your esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (aka the colon), then passes out your anus. You may have noticed that the food you put in your mouth looks nothing like its former self when coming out the other end, one hopes.

Although the stomach absorbs some molecules from your food and drink, most absorption of nutrients happens in the small intestines. Molecules absorbed from the stomach go directly into the bloodstream, molecules absorbed in the intestines go the the liver for processing before they get into the rest of the bloodstream.

If a vampire is feeding on blood, that blood is going to have to be digested (broken down into little bits) and absorbed as something smaller than blood cells(3) to get through the lining of the gut and be of any use to the vampire, nutritionally.

Flawed study. Entertaining film!

1. Internal Review Boards check medical studies for ethics violations, legal issues, and flaws in design.
2. I was sitting next to a couple who were obviously really into vampires. They seemed a little put out because I wasn't taking this movie seriously.
3. Blood carries a lot of stuff in it other than blood cells and platelets. There are all sorts of proteins (I'm thinking of albumins specifically, for you trivia buffs), glucose, hormones, carbon dioxide, cholesterol, etc. Some of which might get absorbed directly, but not the bigger stuff.


  1. But surely, being undead, a vampire's digestive system works differently from a human's?

  2. Yes, but as it is established that they must eat, and therefore that there must be some form of digestion going on, and the digestive system must work somehow. The vampires continue to drink coffee, instead of mainlining it.

    The cartoonist points out that vampires hearts don't run, and asks how much use a stimulant like coffee would be in such a situation. I was ignoring the lack of heartbeat thing because it make injecting anything even less effective...