Graham Watkins writes about Crispr engineering, a new twist to crime – or more of a double helix perhaps.
Yesterday I was asked where the ideas for my new dystopian crime novel The Enemy Within came from. It’s an interesting question which I’ll try to answer. I’m not much of a scientist but in May 2018 I read a story in the Daily Telegraph with the headline Criminals could alter their DNA to evade justice with new genetic editing tools. In the article Professor George Church, of Harvard University, who pioneered the use of something called the crispr technique, said it would be possible for criminals to use the technique to disappear from forensic databases or evade detection.
Crispr kits, the article said, can now be bought online for around £150, (I checked and, believe it or not, you can buy them from Amazon). It went on to say how former Nasa biochemist Josiah Zayner injected himself with a crispr genetic cocktail in an attempt to increase his body mass. What’s more he live streamed the experiment on social media.
Imagine the implication. Criminals, whose DNA is on record, could change their identities and vanish. I had the kernel of a plot but I needed more.
We live in troubled times. Terrorism is rife around the world. Minorities are under attack. Right wing politicians are gaining ground with promises to fight back, to destroy the ‘enemy’. Then I read about the humans who are injecting themselves with microchips, similar to those used to identify your pet dog. It’s true. They do, I promise.
‘What if,’ I wondered, ‘micro-chipping of humans, facial recognition and a national DNA database for everyone was made compulsory by a newly elected right wing government?’ George Orwell would shout from his grave, ‘Didn’t I warn you?’
And that, Dear Reader, is the inspiration for The Enemy Within. I had a great deal of fun researching the science. I even went to a big cyber security convention at Manchester University where the delegates were professional computer hackers; an interesting experience for an old codger like me. I now know the difference between white, black and grey hats, and have a t-shirt to prove I was there.
The final piece of the puzzle came from recent Welsh history and provided me with a flaming Welsh twist to the plot.
Could a right wing government do these things? Look around. According to Professor Church the technology already exists. We know right wing zealots already exist and, as we’ve seen in other developed countries, gullible electors, prepared to vote extremists into office, exist. It’s a recipe for Orwellian madness, writ large in the twenty first Century and a great idea for a book.