[WARNING: THIS JOURNAL MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BUT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES I STRONGLY ADVISE YOU TO DO SO]
With Dawn of the PLanet of the Apes being released in the UK a few days ago, one television channel here in the UK decided ot show the original reboot which I thoroughly enjoyed. First off I should say that I know Planet of the Apes (or PotA) is science fiction
so I can accept if the sciencei s not totally accurate, but there are a few parts of the film that even as an avid science fiction lover still bug me. And that is mainly how the film handles the concept of gene therapy.
For less science-savvy watchers, gene therapy is a concept where a DNA sequence is inserted into a host body using a carrier virus. Because a virus is essentially a shell of protein with some simple genetic strains in it, you can potentially modify the genetic sequence that it carries.
The thing that got me angry the most was the nature of gene therapy in this universe. It works fairly accurately on chimpanzees and other primates; a few innoculations of a virus containing a gene to boost the health of brain cells and they're practically set for life. The one human case we see...well I want to know what the hell happened. The human protagonist's father is suffering from alzheimer's disease, so his son gives him an innoculation and he gets better after he starts getting monthly doses of the formula. We timeskip to five years later, Ceasar the chimp is fully grown and after some time into his adult life, the human protagonist's father regresses. He slips into thinking he still drives and tries to drive a neighbour's car.
According to this film the genes that coded for the restoration of his brain cells were temporary, and that after five years
of being given it his condition comes back worse
after he develops an immunity to the carrier virus. That's not how gene therapy works, film. Once the "new" genes are encoded they are treated by the body no differently than the genes he already had. Once all his brain cells have been given the new genes and once they start working with the new code they're there for the rest of the cell's life and any mitosis will split the cell into two new cells with
copies the new genes.
Unfortunately the bad science doesn't stop there. The human protagonist's solution to his father's newfound immnity is the microbiological equivilent of deploying a bigger gun. The film gets the solution half-right here in that they start using a different strain of virus. In truth a more potent virus is completely unnessecary unless they want the virus to spread faster thoughout the body. Remember the talk of shells of protein above? That's what you want to change. Microbiologists refer to this sort of thing as "lock and key"; white blood cells produce antibodies that latch onto and break apart protein shell compositions specific to that particular antibody.
Yes, injecting "safe" viruses can trigger signs of illness such as a fever or a runny nose, it can happen with certain vaccinations. But these are caused by the body engaging methods to defend itself (same reason morning sickness in women triggers stuff like vomiting - the body detects something foreign to it), not the pure fault of the virus. I'd chalk this "new strain" they used in the later parts of the film as a botched product since as well as sneezing, a fever and a bloody nose it also appears to cause something like a brain hemorrhage that leads to death. Scientists can't quite create viruses form scratch yet so they use known virus cultures by extracting the genetic codes the chosen strain normally has and inserts the new code into the virus. It may be possible that this strain they used retained traces of the virus's codes used to manufacture more of itself inside a host cell, perhaps more specifically the codes that say "continue ot make viruses forever", which normally causes a cell to swell and burst after a given time and can turn a single mote of a virus into thousands.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is still a good film. I am completely honest with this and it goes into the spot of "films I do not regret seeing at all". It just gets the science slightly wrong and that did twist the story as more contrived than it could have been. On its own it could still have been a good film without the whole "more powerful virus" thing since the effects (aside form killing one character and raisng suspicions) were more of a setup for the sequal. The new virus being potentially airborne (not sure why the lab would consider that unless some higher-ups saw huge profits in innoculating swathes of people at a time) didn't have to be a quality unique to this one as it could have been a trait of the old virus.