The Erlenmeyer Flask
Mulder and Scully risk everything on the swiftly disappearing trail of a mysterious
man who bleeds toxic green blood.
An erlenmeyer flask
is a common, narrow-necked conical glass container found in almost any chemistry lab; in
this episode, a particular erlenmeyer flask found at a crime scene holds some
organic material not of this earth.
Merriam-Webster definition: http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/netdict?erlenmeyer
When the two agents investigate the death of the enigmatic Dr. Berube,
they find that he was a participating researcher in the Human Genome Project. The HGP
was initiated in 1989 as an effort to map the human genetic code, and it continues to
Want to learn more about the work of the HGP? You can visit their home page at
or check out a human genome transcript map with some of their discoveries at
While rooting through the remains of Dr. Berube's lab, Mulder comes upon an
erlenmeyer flask of a strange brown liquid. Scully takes it to a lab for analysis, only
to find that it contains a bacterial virus used for gene therapy (see MEMENTO MORI).
The really interesting part is that the bacterium has a new base pair--a fifth and sixth
nucleotide, as Dr. Carpenter tells Scully.
I always thought that there were five nucleotides (guanine, adenine, cytozine, thyamine,
and uracil), but this gives me a great excuse to get a bit of a refresher on the
building-block basics of DNA.
For a primer on nucleotides and DNA composition, go to the
DOE's 1992 paper on molecular genetics at
One of Dr. Berube's test subjects in his genetic experiments was a collegue,
Dr. Sekare, whose DNA he combined with extraterrestrial genetic material. When
Dr. Sekare is treated for gunshot wounds in an ambulance, the medics are
overcome by noxious fumes from Sekare's blood. Although it's not very likely (at
all) in real life to find an alien-human hybrid with toxic green blood walking
around on the streets, in 1994, many emergency room staffers in Riverside,
California, fell seriously ill from toxic fumes emanating from a body they
were attempting to administer. The truth is almost stranger than fiction,
but scientists think they may have pieced together what actually happened.
To read about this baffling case, go to
Discover Magazine's archives
to find a long but interesting article at
This page was last updated: 07/19/98
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