The X-Files’ New Season Will Draw on Creepy Real-World Genetic Engineering

The truth is out there—but the science, not so much. Which is to say, Fox’s reboot-slash-continuation of The X-Files (premiering January 24) will be pulling from some very timely real-world science to prop up its stories. Anne Simon, a science advisor for the series since its first season, told BuzzFeed Science that a major plot arc will incorporate the gene-editing—and, scientists are finding, gene-controlling—technology CRISPR/Cas9.

The Atlantic kicked off 2016 with a piece about how CRISPR was designed to be gene-editing software; the enzyme Cas9 acts like an incredibly efficient set of scissors, snipping DNA as instructed by an RNA guide. But about three years ago, the Stanley Qi Lab (now based at Stanford University) came up with the idea to “blunt” Cas9, transforming it from scissors into a platform or delivery system, moving certain molecules to certain genes.

The Qi team has already developed CRISPRi, a version of the enzyme that turns genes off, and CRISPRa, which activates other genes. When we were just talking about editing genes, we were already hitting “firsts” like preventing HIV infection in human cells. Being able to actually control genes, especially with these two aforementioned methods, could be anything from expanding heart muscles after a heart attack to silencing genes that contribute to cancer growth.

That’s assuming they stay in the right hands, of course. All that Simon would tell BuzzFeed was that the show will be incorporating CRISPR as a “really big” plot twist, which will “kind of explain the whole conspiracy theory and what the Cigarette Smoking Man was doing.” That’s a tall order, especially considering the CSM had his fingers in a lot of pies. In fact, you can refresh your memory with Vulture’s handy timeline of the series’ mythology. At any rate, it’s very cool how Chris Carter and co. are working to fold in elements of 2016 into the new season.


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