Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mutation - Part Two

Thus far, in our examination of I Am Legend, we have established how viruses find opportunity for mutation, and what types of viruses are of interest to researchers for use as oncolytic adenoviruses targeted for cancer treatments. (If that sentence makes no sense to you, go to the Mutation - Part One blog entry, March 6. Or you can just read on.)

Has anyone noticed how many movies starring
Will Smith have medical themes and show off his hunky arms?
Exercise has been clinically proven to enhance immune system function.

As established, I Am Legend relates events that are about to ruin our lives, happening as I write this... blog! Using the film to read the future, we find that some time last year, in 2009, Doctor Alice Krippin engineered a strain of measles virus (paramyxovirus)(1) in an attempt to cure cancer. According to the film, we should expect to hear any day about Krippin's 100% cure rate for cancer by using this new viral strain in her experimental treatments.

Emma Thompson as Doctor Alice Krippin

If we are on schedule with I Am Legend, this viral cure for cancer will mutate, running horribly out of control, infecting and killing us sometime this year. It seems that this mutated virus has an infection rate between 90 and 100%, depending on your statistical source.

According to Wikipedia, once infected 90% of us will die, 8% will turn into a horribly degenerated vestige of mankind, and 2% are not affected at all, but will be murdered by mutated humans.

Mutant human attempting to murder the uninfected (talk about mood swings!)

So the brilliance of I Am Legend is that the virus used to cure cancer not only mutates its own DNA as it gets out of control and "goes airborne," but also mutates the DNA of the human host. Our entire scenario is a double mutation! For you trivia buffs, run-of-the-mill measles virus is already "airborne."

Spring colors (like blue) are all the rage this
season for the raging pandemic!

According to the movie, at any moment in 2010, we will begin to feel the initial signs and symptoms of viral infection. Many viral infections start in the same exact way, regardless of whether they are lethal, or mutating, or not. Influenza, HIV and polio all start with fever, headache, body aches, malaise. This pattern is commonly described as "flu-like symptoms."

This woman has signs of infection
with a horrible mutating epidemic,
or maybe it's the flu.

But because this is a mutated measles virus, hacking cough, sore throat and runny nose should develop tout suite, or it could just be H1N1(link for photo below.)

Oh my gosh! She sneezed! It's going airborne!

It is not clear if people infected with the mutant virus get a rash like measles,

A measles rash on the back, from an informative
article in the New York Times.

but they do develop a permanent fever (possibly as a result of the mutated adenovirus' hyper-stimulation of the body's immune response) and an accelerated metabolism...

Monitoring metabolism in the film.

...and photophobia, just like measles. I should point out that photophobia affiliated with measles infection does not make the patient's skin smoke and burn.

Double mutation induced photophobia is due to strike
the New York area in 2012 or sooner. Note the smoking epidermis.

People infected by the mutant virus also go on to lose all their hair except for eyelashes, have increased muscular power(2), increased coordination, and display behavioral changes and mood swings.

Patients may be prone to violent outbursts.

Their pets may also experience mood swings.

There also seems to be a bleeding eye thing that presents itself as a sign of infection with the virus. This bleeding eye event should not be confused with the hemolacria experienced by the character Le Chiffre in Casino Royale (blog entry CASINO ROeYeALE).

Infection with Krippin's mutated paramyxovirus
leads to bleeding from the eyes. Now we know it's not H1N1.

Next time we will track the spread of this virus through the general population.

1. Paramyxoviruses are a group of viruses that cause upper respiratory illnesses like measles, mumps. These are airborne viruses. According to Wikipedia, from Greek para-, beyond, -myxo-, mucus or slime, plus virus, from Latin poison, slime. Ick!
2. Enhanced muscular endurance is not documented in the film.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mutation - Part One

Although I have no source of reference to validate this statement, I'd say that 80% of mutations in the movies are caused by viruses. Let us examine one of these movies in great detail, as it provides interesting insight into the follies of science.

The brilliant thing about I Am Legend is that the movie tells the story of a genetic mutation that will ravage the human and dog population, any day now. The fall of man is a measles virus genetically re-engineered by scientists looking for a cure for cancer.

People have known for more than 100 years that certain viruses have the potential to treat cancer and shrink tumors(1). As a matter of fact, the early part of the 20th century saw attempts to treat cancer with measles, rabies and smallpox. Using herpes virus to battle cancer is also of interest to researchers.

Herpes. Cure your cancer, make sex awkward(2).

A virus is essentially a packet of genetic information for making more viruses. First the virus infects a target cell. Through a series of steps instigated by viral enzymes, the virus will insert its own strand of DNA (genetic information) into the DNA of the host cell. Viral DNA is now a part of the cell's genetic make-up and the host cell will get busy making new viruses. Any time the cell reproduces, it also reproduces the viral DNA in its nucleus as if it were its own.

For you trivia buffs, here's a representation of viral reproduction.

To over-simplify the process, using the tiny graphic, above:
1. The virus binds to the cell wall
2. The virus fuses with and enters the cell
3, 4, 5. The virus inserts its genetic material into the DNA in the nucleus of the host cell.
6, 7. The cell starts making viral components.
8. The cell assembles the virus
9. The new viruses start budding out of the cell membrane, going off to infect other cells.

Easy peasy!

The general idea is that you engineer an oncolytic adenovirus to target only cancer cells. The virus infects the cell, uses the tumor cell to make more virus, and kills the infected cell as the new viruses burst out of it. The newly made viruses can then infect other local tumor cells, or travel through the bloodstream to infect metastasized(3) tumor cells in other parts of the body, and destroy them too.

Additionally, the use of these viruses in this process may hyper-stimulate a body's immune response. Heightened targeted immune response might lead to the body being able to fight its own cancer.

What could go wrong?

Mutation ... that's what!

Don't let this happen to you!
At least she doesn't have herpes.

During viral reproduction a lot of genetic coding is interrupted, replicated, inserted and re-replicated. All of these steps for making copies of viral DNA mean that there is a lot of opportunity for MUTATION. Not just people cellular mutation, but viral mutation, too.

Look out! I Am Legend takes place in Manhattan in 2012!

Coming up next - more about viruses and what to expect in two years!

1. Here is a link to a pdf of the article Virotherapy As An Approach Against Cancer Stem Cells, by Camilla Ribacka and Akseli Hemminki. Highly entertaining. As I read it, I found myself wishing that I Am Legend's Dr. Krippin (Emma Thompson), the virologist to blame for the entire horror-to-come, had been given a couple of lines reflecting a glimmer of what was written here. It wouldn't have to be too complicated, just something to make her sound more knowledgeable.
2. There are actually a few different types of herpesvirus out there, like the one that causes chicken pox. But the joke is better if it appears that you have to acquire a sexually transmitted disease in order to cure your cancer. Ha ha!
3. Cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation at Adult Education: a useless lecture series. Carrie McLaren, Jim Hanas, and Charles Star curate, produce, and host this really fun monthly lecture presentation in Brooklyn.

The theme of the evening was Animal Minds, Animal Bodies. Keeping our mutation theme going, my contribution was a live version of my May 2009 Spider Palm entries from this blog. Here's the link, if you'd like to check out the description of Peter Parker's physical transformation.

Next time we will continue with mutation via the film I Am Legend!