Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bad Neuroscience Fiction

Jason Ironheart, from the Babylon 5 episode Mind War
Anyway, the experiments went on for months. Genetic manipulation; mutated strains of serotonin and acetylcholine to increase neural processing. Five, ten, sometimes fifteen injections a day. The pain was...

I was watching this with some friends the other night and started smacking my head in mental agony. B5 is usually a show that either gets the science right or implicitly acknowledges that you can't explain something with real science and ignores it. But here we have a character tryig to explain a series of experiments he was subjected to in order to increase his telepathic abilities, so they're sort of screwed from the moment they decided to write dialogue describing it.

But this is even worse than that. Let's make this simple: a is an alteration of some sort of genetic material. The phrase "mutated strain" implies a genetically altered bacterium or virus. "Strain" can also be used to describe genetic lines of lab animals or of plants; but as far as I know, it's use is limited to describing a subset of a species. So what, you ask, are and ?

They're neurotransmitters: so at least the writers correctly identified them as having something to do with the brain. Let's take a look, shall we?



So let's just make this clear: chemicals are not particularly open to mutation. You could mutate genes for the enzymes that produce these transmitters; you could mutate the genes for receptor sub-types, transporters, any other number of proteins involved in serotonergic or cholinergic activities. But talking about mutating the substances themselves is like talking about mutating water or glucose.


At 03 August, 2006 13:11, Anonymous Plant Master Flash said...

Interestingly, I have heard chemists refer to various compounds as "species" (although not "strains", to be sure). I can only assume this is because the word's use originated in the more generic definition that meant something along the lines of "type" or "variety" rather than referring to a specific biological concept.

But yeah. If they ever take the GRE subject tests beyond the realm of multiple choice, they should totally use excerpts from sci-fi shows and novels and tell examinees to analyze what is wrong with the descriptions being given.

At 03 August, 2006 15:37, Blogger The Neurophile said...

Oh my god, that would be so much cooler than the reading analysis section in Verbal that they already have.

But come on: actually require GRE-takers to be capable of critical analysis? Unthinkable!

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