Fly Fishing Article "Original Sin" by Bryan Anglerson
The brook trout was revived enough for Adam to loosen his grip, and the trout drifted slowly to a resting spot behind a rock a few feet from Adam.
Its red spots with blue halos seemed to glow like neon lights while Adam admired the mating colors that Mother Nature had given this char. Soon, the trout regained energy and scooted forward, disappearing under the reflective surface of the creek’s still pool, causing Adam’s eyes to re-focus on the up-side-down reflection of the University’s BioSciences building.
Appreciating how convenient it was to have this little creek flow through campus to serve as his unofficial research lab, he moved into casting position for his next quarry, a rainbow trout that was older than it should be.
Wild trout were his control population, but the 21-inch trout he was about to catch, again, was one of Dr Adam Novak’s secret experimental specimens. On the third drift, the trout fell for a custom-but-nondescript, size-16, parachute pattern. After a short tussle, Adam netted it and took an assay of measurements to confirm that the 7-year-old trout was still healthy and showing no signs of aging.
After a short walk across a campus lawn to the BioSciences building, Dr Adam Novak arrived at the security door to his laboratory.
When he held his palm to the security scanner, he smelled trout slime on his fingers. No one else would notice, and it would not matter anyway because he often fly-fished the small creek on campus during his lunch hour, ostensibly to de-stress. Besides, his laboratory smelled like trout and lobsters. His fishy odors always blended in. After green lights blinked their authorization, the electronic door lock clicked open and he entered, gathering his lab coat from the hook by the door.
Habitually, he made “rounds” past his aquarium tanks and greeted his most important research specimens by name.
“Hey there Methuselah” he said to one of the older lobsters. “Are you hungry, Hannibal?” he asked a gluttonous rainbow trout that had been the demise of many smaller test-specimen trout.
Although he had named his lab animals and they were valuable to his research, he felt no intimate attachment to them, because they were only experimental objects, but they ranked above rats. He hated experimenting with rats.
Nervously, he busied himself making final preparations for the life-changing-but-risky action he would take later that evening.
He wondered if he were too young, at thirty years of age, to take such a risk.
After his fellow scientists and a cadre of graduate students had left the laboratory for the night, Adam mustered the courage to act. Feeling calmer now than he had expected, Dr Novak prepared the injection, a precise mixture of embryonic human stem cells, lobster DNA, and the CRISPR virus. It was too soon. He wished he could delay his fateful decision for a few more years, but Chinese CRISPR geneticists had forced his hand.
By publishing rogue, gene-splicing experiments that they had conducted on humans to prevent a specific illness, the Chinese scientists had crossed an inviolable ethical line by experimenting with genetically altered, viable fetuses that were implanted in mothers and became living babies before potential side-effects could be studied.
The political and scientific fallout would be swift and terrible, perhaps shutting down Adam’s lab, or at a minimum over-regulating and stifling his research. Young Dr. Adam Novak was about to cross a not-dissimilar ethical line, but he had no intention of publishing what he was about to do.
Doctor Novak’s research epiphany had come five years earlier while eating at Boston’s Lobster Emporium Restaurant and simultaneously listing all the rivers he wanted to fish in his lifetime —a fishing “bucket list” as it were. He was in Boston for a genetics-research conference, and by the second day, he had already listened to more rat experiments than he could tolerate.
He ducked out before the midday conference session, chose a table in the back of the Lobster Emporium Restaurant, and let his mind wander to magnificent far-off places that he wanted to fish —someday. He began to write down his fishing-destination fantasies, making a list in his conference notebook.
At the top of the list was Mongolia because every fly-fishing magazine had recently published photographs of huge taimen trout held by two anglers because these exotic beasts were longer than the outstretched arms of one person. Next on his list came New Zealand, then Kamchatka, Katmai National Park and other Bristol Bay rivers, Chilean Patagonia, and Tierra Del Fuego. The lower part of the list was more realistic. He grouped the rivers he wanted to fish by state: Idaho’s panhandle for Westslope cutts, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana.
His list of Montana Rivers was long, too long.
Because his University was in Oregon and near Washington and Northern California, he had already explored the best streams available in those states, so he left them off the list. He added Yellowstone National Park, having just read a book about the 50 best places to fish there. The book made him realize that Yellowstone had more miles of trout streams than a normal angler could fish in a lifetime.
Similarly, every Rocky Mountain state contained enough trout water to warrant a lifetime each, without fishing any river twice.
His list filled the entire page when he realized that he had not yet listed any destinations in British Columbia or Labrador. Rather than feeling relaxed and entertained with fishing fantasies, he felt dejected. How should he prioritize the list? Where should he start? That he had no hope of fishing 10% of his list made his ambition seem quixotic. Adam closed the notebook, sighed deeply, leaned back and drained his beer.
“Are you done with your meal?’ chirped the young waitress, uncertain.
Although Dr Novak had eaten most of the lobster, the coleslaw and grilled corn sat nearly untouched. He waved away the plate and asked for the check. When the plate was removed, his eyes caught on the paper placemat underneath. A photograph of Louie the Lobster advertised a festivities-filled release party when the Lobster Emporium Restaurant would release Louie The Lobster back into the ocean on September 25th during National Lobster Week. Although Louie had spent 20 years in the restaurant’s tank, the placemat said the lobster was 136 years old.
While exiting the restaurant, Adam lingered at the tank and studied Louie, recalling from his doctoral studies that lobsters and hydras repair their own aging DNA and are essentially immortal.
His mood brightened instantly, and he impulsively committed himself to a new research focus: anti-aging, aka anti-senescence. Could he change his research focus on a whim simply by considering the age of a lobster? He could not come up with a satisfactory answer to “why not?” He decided to skip his conference sessions that afternoon to begin searching the scientific literature for studies into the bio-genetic mechanisms that prevent lobsters from aging.
As he turned to exit the restaurant without looking, he nearly bowled over a young woman. Embarrassed, he stammered an apology while noticing that she wore the conference’s badge on a lanyard.
“Uh…so sorry…oh…I see we are both attending the same genetics conference.” Her badge read Madison Bruun, University of Colorado, Boulder.
“Yeah, I see that…” She eyed him, carefully evaluating whether to say more and engage him in conversation. She decided to continue, “I desperately need a beer after standing for four hours by my poster presentation.”
Putting on his most charming smile, Adam asked, “What is your poster presentation…err…research about? …I haven’t had time yet to see the poster exhibits.” He said that even though it was unlikely that he would waste time on them.
“I’m just starting graduate school, and stem cell research is my passion. My poster presentation is nothing groundbreaking, just a little experiment I did to show that embryonic stem cells can differentiate later than most studies have previously shown.” She was tall, had a wide toothy smile, and exuded athletic sexiness. Just his kind. She wore a Winston Rod cap with her brown ponytail out the back.
To keep the conversation going, he said, “You realize that you’re in Orvis’ backyard here, and a Winston Rod logo may rumple the tweed of pipe-smoking Battenkill anglers?”
Her reaction hooked him, “I hope to make these easterners wonder if the reputation of Colorado coeds is accurate and whether they could even handle a western woman.”
Feeling flushed, Adam could only think to say, “I don’t want to keep you from your well-deserved beer.” As she walked past him and into the restaurant, he watched her, imagining what her nice figure would look like in waders.
That afternoon’s research did not uncover many scholarly publications on Lobsters’ immortality, but he learned enough to understand that the key to cheating death would be harnessing telomerase’s power to repair aging and defective DNA ends.
The next day, he tried to listen to lectures about scientific progress. He normally found cutting-edge research enthralling, but his mind wandered to his two new interests: anti-senescence and Madison Bruun…until his reverie was broken by the lecture on CRISPR, an emerging experimental tool that used viruses to alter DNA with surgical precision. He listened with renewed enthusiasm to the bombshell announcement, learning that CRISPR viruses could be engineered to remove precise protein segments in DNA and replace the cut-out section with a beneficial DNA strand, forever altering the genetics of the host organism.
Dr Novak hurried to Madison Bruun’s poster exhibit. To disguise his over-eagerness to talk to her, he smiled casually and feigned interest in reading her poster presentation.
Looking at her squarely in her beautiful green eyes, he asked, “I have a research-project topic to propose to you. Will you meet me on Boulder Creek next Friday, and I’ll explain my research idea as we wade?”
From the coffee shop in Nederland, they drove together up Middle Boulder Creek. Adam insisted that Madison cast first. Her loop was tight, and her stroke was not too fast. An accurate reach cast led to a long drift with deft mending, and suddenly a rainbow was bending her rod.
As she fondled the trout before releasing it, her pleasure was palpable. She tilted her head in his direction and announced,
“You get the next pocket after you finally tell me about this mysterious research you want me to help with.”
“Why do we die?”
“Yeah…why do humans age and die?”
“Huh…well…if you ask my mother, we’re mortal because Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. She says men—and women—were immortal before partaking, but now we die because they ate the fruit.”
“My mother thinks I should date more and get married now that I’m thirty.”
He immediately regretted saying it and deflected the awkwardness by forging ahead, “So, your mom thinks that we could become immortal again if we un-ate the fruit? What about you? Would you be interested in finding a way to prevent aging?”
“So, it’s a quest for the fountain of youth? Well, Ponce De Leon tried that six hundred years ago. Why now? What’s the breakthrough?”
“I told you the research topic…so, it’s my turn to cast now.” His casts were adequate, but he felt a little self-conscious thinking that she was judging his angling skill. But she said nothing, even though she had local-river knowledge that could have helped him. After a few fishless holes, he felt a fish, but it did not get hooked. “I had my fair chance at that trout and missed it. It’s your turn again.”
“Okay, but you’ll need to tell me more before your next turn…”
After Madison became Maddy to him and not long after she re-matriculated at Oregon, they made quick strides at reversing original sin in all its connotations. It really was forbidden for a research professor and his graduate-student co-worker to partake of the fruit as they did, but it did please Adam’s mother that he was finally “dating” someone. Their discoveries in the research lab were equally torrid: Splicing lobster anti-senescent DNA into Maddy’s undifferentiated stem cells was a surprisingly low hurdle due to the effective CRISPR method, which was the subject of Madison’s doctoral thesis.
The selection of trout as the primary laboratory test specimens was foreordained.
Both scientists were avid fly anglers, and soon aquariums in the lab and the little creek that ran through campus were swimming with trout, genetically-modified trout, but not Frankentrout with un-natural size or strength, but rather normal-looking, normal-sized trout that just wouldn’t age —or die of old age.
Several test specimens in the outdoor creek did in fact die; at least one was killed by a raccoon and one by an angler for dinner. The few other test trout that disappeared were likely taken by raptors. Despite the few losses, almost all the genetically altered trout lived on happily while showing no signs of the physical decline associated with aging. For their research, they chose A.D.A.M. as the acronym: Anti Decline and Aging Mortality.
After five years, they knew they could successfully stop the aging process. There were minor details to resolve with more experiments, but then they could publish. Peer reviews would validate their research. By all measurements, five years was light speed for a breakthrough of such life-changing significance.
Future testing of A.D.A.M. on humans with FDA approval would be the biggest challenge, and maybe they would need to do initial testing overseas in looser regulatory environments. But then the Chinese scientists shook the foundations of genetic science worldwide with their rogue human experiments. As a fallout, genetic-engineering progress would be forestalled by at least a decade while the world debated and negotiated an ethical playing field for genetic testing on humans. A.D.A.M. would not survive a ten-year delay without funding.
Finally alone in his laboratory, Doctor Adam Novak swabbed his right temple with isopropanol antiseptic, inhaled deeply, steadied himself, then inserted the long needle into his head until it reached his hypothalamus and slowly depressed the needle, counting down the ten seconds needed to empty the syringe of its 60 milliliters.
He immediately began to imagine the CRISPR viruses setting to work clipping out those portions of his DNA strands that control aging and replacing them with the lobster’s immortal DNA, giving him the multiple lifetimes that he and Maddy would need to fish for all the trout in the world.
- An article submission by Bryan Anglerson