ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Janie Chodosh in a guest post to discuss the science behind her debut young adult science mystery Death Spiral. (Click for ScienceThrillers review of the novel.)
Guest post by author Janie Chodosh
One night in my former life as a middle-school biology teacher, my husband, a geneticist, and I sat down to watch a documentary on the human genome project. Two hours and three billion base pairs later what I found most compelling about the cracking of the human genetic code was now that the sequence of our A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s had been decoded, we had the ability to look inside our biological makeup, to read our genetic destiny. Was this a good idea? And what about the fact that companies could patent the genes they discovered? (This was before the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that said companies cannot patent genes, stating that DNA is “a product of nature and not patent-eligible merely because it has been isolated.”) The contemporary medical and ethical questions stemming from the ability to read our genetic code cross-pollinated with the concept of companies holding genetic information captive, and thus my genetics-based, young-adult mystery, Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery, was born.
Once I got the idea I started studying. I read genetics books. My husband drew diagrams. We stayed up late discussing things like antisense RNA and adenoviruses and DNA polymerase, and then I pared what I had learned down to a few sentences. A few sentences a teenager would speak, and not just any teenager— a distrustful, in your face, fearless sort of teen. A teen who, over the course of 300 pages, would take on PhDs, biopharmaceutical rogues, and drug dealers. I wanted real science, real questions, and real issues that the age of personal genomic medicine has brought upon us.
From the opening pages of Death Spiral my protagonist, Faith, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a recently deceased junkie, fights to uncover the actual cause of her mom’s death, which everyone believes to be from a heroin overdose. In pursuing the truth, Faith finds herself ensnared in a world of corrupt scientists and academics who ignore the Hippocratic oath and use the advances in genetic technologies for their own dishonorable purposes.
While the mystery of her mom’s death is the front story and the action of the novel, Faith, in a very personal way, finds herself pulled into the ethical, societal, and personal questions regarding genetic testing. I became interested in the implications for genetic testing and personalized medicine. To test or not to test, that is the question. Discovering you have the gene for breast cancer can save your life; discovering you have the gene for Huntington’s disease, cannot. The crux of the matter is knowledge: how much do we want? Teens like Faith and her sidekick/maybe love interest, Jesse, will someday live in a world where things we have not yet dreamed possible, will come to scientific fruition. As today’s young-adult readers ride the wave of adolescence and find their place in the world, “Who am I?” becomes a literal question not just of personal identity, but of the personal arrangement of one’s A’s,T’s,C’s and G’s.