Vector Red: Gene Therapy, Blessing or Curse, by Lawrence W. Gold ISBN 9781540811158
Five out of five stars
This latest saga of the staff and patients of Brier Hospital is the best one in the series. For decades since the complete understanding of the role of DNA in cells was worked out, science fiction stories have featured genetic manipulation. Sometimes, it is depicted as for the good, but most often for the bad. There has been a consistent and powerful public resistance to Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs. This is where snippets of DNA are inserted into living creature so that they and their descendents have a previously unavailable characteristic.
The greatest fear within this area is the potential production of a “superbug,” a human pathogen where there is little human immunity and it is resistant to all forms of chemical counterattack. That is the basic plot of this fast-moving and engaging novel. What is different now is the availability of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), a tool that allows for genomes to be edited much easier and with greater precision than before.
A genius misfit and his best and only non-relative friend are talented biological scientists that end up at Fort Detrick, the American government’s primary lab for the investigation of germ warfare. The major purpose of the research is supposedly to develop mechanisms to protect populations from the release of weaponized microbes. The staff there are considered the front line defense against biological agents.
A deadly and completely new pathogen is released into the population in a remote area by the government in what is claimed as an accident and two infected sisters end up at Brier Hospital. The uniqueness and severity of their illness taxes and baffles the staff, with the elderly, yet still sharp, Jacob Wiezman the lead physician.
This is a thriller that has a very plausible scenario as the main plot device. With the development of new tools for “snipping and sewing” DNA fragments, it is now easier than ever to insert the gene you want into a bacterium. Done properly, a superbug can be created and fairly easily dispersed into the population. Unlike other weapons of mass destruction, thousands to millions of people could be killed by the proper dispersment of a small amount of pathogens. The best thrillers have as their primary premise a main event that is very plausible, in this case that is true and the premise is also very well articulated and explained.