Mad Science: Human Flora and 'The Fly'

Mad Science: Human Flora and 'The Fly'
Enter the telepod... Image via inciclopedia

Obviously, there's a huge disconnect between the mad scientists of fiction and most real-life researchers. After all, what is the mad scientist but a dumping ground for our cultural uncertainties about science? Scientists are constantly changing the way we view the universe, bringing into question accepted values and viewpoints. Stir a little ethical unease into the mix and you've got yourself the roots of some serious mad science.

Today, I thought we'd look at one of my all-time favorite mad scientists: Seth Brundle, the unhinged genius at the center of David Cronenrberg's 1986 remake of "The Fly." Played by the always-excellent Jeff Goldblum, the obsessed researcher develops a method of teleportation. Things take a turn for the grotesquely tragic, however, when he accidentally merges his DNA with that of a common housefly (which happened to fly into the teleportation pod with him). The rest of the picture details his horrifying bodily and mental mutation into a giant insect/human hybrid.

It's fascinating to examine some of the science behind this. A buzzing house fly introduces foreign DNA into the mix, forcing the computer to produce one being out of two. But what of the other sources of foreign DNA in Bundle's system?

The human body is quite the thriving habitat, not only supporting but depending on many of its microbe inhabitants. There are an estimated 600 species in the human mouth alone, which researchers at the Human Oral Microbiome Database (HOMD) are currently working to catalog. And according to former New Scientist editor Alun Anderson, the human body may contain as many as 100 trillion microbes, despite housing a mere 10 trillion cells at any given moment.

So, for Seth Brundle's teleportation device to work, it would need to break down and reassemble not only Brundle's DNA, but also the DNA of the various human flora inside him, which could throw as many as 60,000 additional genes into the mix. What's an extra insect on top of all that? And if the computer was only capable of dealing with a single organism and was confused by non-human DNA, then how seriously messed up would Brundle have been, stepping out of the pod with his genes spliced with those of the microbe hordes inside his body?

Of course it's an exercise in frustration to expect science and science fiction to line up. It brings to mind the words of MST3K mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forester, "It would take a scientist to explain, and I'm simply too mad."