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Transgenics has long been a bold and unexplored frontier for the fields of biology, embryology, and genetics. The process by which it works is simple: if a scientist wants to modify bacteria to produce a particular substance, such as insulin, they must extract the desired gene from another organism using restriction enzymes, affix the gene to a bacterial plasmid using ligase, and then insert the recombinant plasmid into the appropriate bacterium. The result is a host that secretes the desired substance; in this case, insulin.

Of course, transgenics, and genetic engineering as a whole, can go a lot further.

On the 21st of September, 2006, an enigmatic genetics start-up known as BioNova Genetics made a scientific breakthrough. They claimed that, using a technology they referred to as ‘Ligase Detection, Amplification and Reconstitution’, or LDAR, they had managed to successfully reverse-engineer a pheasant embryo to display the characteristics of the ancestral non-avian dinosaurs. BioNova, through means totally unknown to the scientific community at large, had managed to successfully ‘revive’ the gene that coded for a long tail, something long thought of as a scientific impossibility.

With what they described as ‘a series of careful calculations and some good luck’, they managed to create a creature that was supposedly identical to the very first bird. This long-tailed, tooth-bearing, claw-handed creature was dubbed Primaves antecessor, and when it was unveiled to the scientific community, there was an instantaneous and overwhelming, if not unanimous, reaction.

Most scientists were stunned.

Assuming that P. antecessor was indeed the closest thing possible to the common ancestor of all birds, it would have revolutionised the fields of ornithology and palaeontology. Using its physiology and morphology as a reference, scientists would have finally been able to answer one of the greatest questions in zoology: the question of where birds came from. Genetic analysis showed that P. antecessor was indeed totally unlike any bird alive today, with molecular data recovering it as a proximal outgroup to all other birds—that is to say, had it naturally evolved, it would occupy the same position as the true ancestor.

But as the initial excitement, debate, and outrage died down, the public's reaction was of a distinctly different nature. Rather than being overwhelmed with excitement and optimism, the general public was actually quite hostile towards the prospect of creating a creature that had certain characteristics that just didn’t belong. Predictably, the animal rights groups were up in arms about the whole thing, with some even advocating that BioNova be sued for everything they had. Others still shared the same viewpoint as the more optimistic scientists, and they were excited about the potential discoveries that LDAR may have opened the door to.

But as it turns out, there was much more than a science experiment at play here.

In late 2010, just four and a half years after Primaves antecessor was created, classified emails were leaked by a BioNova staff member who went by the alias of ‘Seth Littel’. Despite attempts by the genetics company to quell the ensuing panic and uproar, all the media outlets that covered the story had enough of their own suspicions about the whole thing to do so, and decided to go on a full-on blitzkrieg against the company.

The following is just one of the emails leaked by Littel. Most of the addresses included were redacted by Littel, with a few obvious exceptions.

DATE: August 1st, 2010

TIME: 18:00 CST




SUBJECT: Request for the continuation of Megadermatidae experiments

The experiments with LDAR over the past few weeks have yielded unprecedented results. The subjects' genomes—chiefly those within the genus Lyroderma—have reacted remarkably well to transgenic operations, particularly in conjunction with CRISPR technology. Reaction times in specimens appear to have been greatly increased, and specimens exhibit increased levels of terrestriality. Researchers [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] are requesting permission to increase somatotropin production.

The importance of the above cannot be stressed enough, as it provides context for BioNova’s subsequent activities. At 2:24 AM CST, a second leaked email was posted by Littel on the BugCrowd hacking forum. The contents of the email went into greater detail regarding these experiments on megadermatids:

DATE: August 3rd, 2010

TIME: 13:50 CST


SUBJECT: Request for the continuation of Megadermatidae experiments

The request was granted yesterday, and put into fruition overnight. Megadermatid specimens were initially supplied with additional somatotropin that was introduced orally. However, these individuals attained twice the natural size of the species and their flight ability was greatly impaired; this did not inhibit attempts at flight. In the second experiment, the pituitary gland was compromised in order to destabilize the production of somatotropin. These individuals attained much greater sizes, with the largest being totally flightless and capable of standing at the height of a ten-year-old child when on all fours. Unusually, these specimens exhibited a higher propensity for an upright gait; this is to be further investigated. The possibility of future applications of enhanced somatotropin production will be discussed in subsequent meetings.

This appeared to confirm that BioNova’s operations were not all that they seemed, and the world knew it. As the leaked emails began to gain traction, a post on 4chan’s /b/ board, made by a user who went by the pseudonym “Madison”, discussed the possibilities that the operations had gone much further than anyone thought, and that the true intentions of BioNova may have been more sinister than anyone could have imagined. That post went as follows:

>BioNova Genetics is up to something. Hear me out on this one.

>I live less than a mile from the BioNova building. It’s just down the road.

>Every once in a while when I drive past, I see an unmarked van pull up outside the building, someone steps out, and they bring in this big crate of something.

>I don’t know what.

>I’m thinking of contacting this “Littel” guy myself and seeing what comes up.


The replies to the post flooded in. Most of them encouraged “Madison” to contact Littel, but subsequent and anecdotal reports suggest that one user, lacking a pseudonym, told them to “stop messing with things you don’t understand”, and that “BioNova’s reputation has been tarnished enough without the likes of you tarnishing it even further.”

Predictably, this made people even more interested.

On the 8th of August, at 08:15 CST, BioNova’s website was mysteriously taken down, with the homepage being replaced by the Latin phrase, “Tuas actiones diutius gubernatio non feremus, neque nos”. When translated, this statement roughly translates to “The government will no longer tolerate your actions, and nor will we”.

Shortly after that, BioNova’s headquarters in Jericho, New York were raided by the Feds.

The raid involved armed police, SWAT teams, and a few FBI agents. Residents of Jericho reported hearing gunshots, and shortly thereafter, an ambulance pulled up outside the building. A man covered with blood was brought out on a stretcher, and was apparently pronounced dead at the scene. That man was later identified as Brian Tanner, a security guard for BioNova.

And then, it was over.

Surprisingly, the report came out very quickly, and it was as comprehensive as it was fast. The document detailed how BioNova’s experiments with bats was not just restricted to Lyroderma—three different species were officially recorded, and many more were found behind closed doors. Perhaps the most unexpected discovery was that of a group of thirteen small bats, subsequently found to be hybrids between the New Zealand lesser short-tailed bat and the house mouse. The bite forces of these so-called ‘mouse-bats’ was found to be abnormally strong, indicating genetic tampering on a level far beyond mere transgenics. They were engineered specifically for structural destabilization.

In effect, they were bioweapons.

And then the news broke. An article in The Daily Mail ran on the 13th of August, detailing the story of the raid, and claiming that the raid was not only the result of a complaint that BioNova was releasing genetically modified bats into the wild, but that Tanner was a known whistle-blower who had revealed the full extent of the operation to some of his colleagues, and was in fact the elusive “Littel”.

But this would be debunked fairly quickly.

Within an hour of that, the mysterious Seth Littel made a final post, this time on 4Chan’s /b/ board. The following is that post:

> Hey, guys. Thanks for the help you folks have given me over the past few months. That Madison chick ended up contacting me, and boy, am I glad she did. It helped a lot to have insights from some who lived close by. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you all, and I hope you’re well. Hopefully, this will bring a sense of closure to the whole thing.

Attached were three documents, all from BioNova’s head office. There were records of business transactions, of personal files—with most of the more private data redacted—and, perhaps most significant, a statement by the CEO of the company.

DATE: August 7th, 2010

TIME: 19:03 CST


SUBJECT: The success of recent operations

Following the recent experiments on Lyroderma lyra, experiments on additional bat species were conducted, and the following conclusions reached:

· We need to redouble efforts on gene editing, which we found to be the most effective method for genetic modification.

· The potential for morphological alteration through somatotropin injections is greater than that achieved through bioengineering. It should also be noted that somatotropin injections also have the effect of increasing a bat’s natural level of ferocity.

· For bats of a larger size, increasing weight through bioengineering would be the best option.

· Assuming total success of operations, employment in armed conflict may be considered.

· The results of the aforementioned experiments should not be extrapolated to mean that BioNova’s operations have gone further than we can currently tell.

The viability of these experiments must be investigated in greater detail. The incorporation of HG ([REDACTED]) genes must be investigated further, as must SG (‘Size Gene’). We hope for further success in subsequent operations.

With this final message in mind, it becomes clear even to the most skeptical of minds that BioNova’s intentions were less than noble. The employment of genetically modified organisms in war, particularly ones as flight-worthy as bats, raises real questions as to whether or not BioNova was actually engaged in genetic manipulation for the benefit of humankind, or for financial or socio-political gain. But with the company’s complete and utter disappearance in recent years, the public may never know.

All in all, the case of BioNova Genetics is an oddity, one which vastly altered the course of genetic engineering. With new and stringent restrictions being put into effect by the government, the field was never the same.

But that, perhaps, is for the better.

Written by Palaeontologica
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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