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People Sprout Squirrels, Flies
February 11, 2119
LINCOLN, NE--Organizers of last weekend's Conference on Spontaneous Biodiversification indicate that the recently identified phenomenon has spread beyond the thinly-populated rural farmlands of the American Midwest and has begun to crop up in isolated cases in urban centers as far afield as Chicago and San Diego. "The real take-away from the Conference," notes Dr. Wendy Chimer, the Conference's keynote speaker, "is that spontaneous generations of the sort we've seen in this area for several years are not localized aberrations, but part of a larger biogenetic process that we are only now beginning to recognize."
The phenomenon, known variously as "Organismic Teratoma," "Noah's Ark Disease," and "Intronic Alter-Generation Syndrome" was first identified by a team of research oncologists working at The Nebraska Health Consortium to formulate courses of treatment for strange tumor-like growths that appeared to contain small animals. "We'd never seen anything like it," explains one member of the team. "One of the patients literally grew a squirrel right in our isolation unit. I didn't realize that such a small animal could cause such a big mess. Have you ever tried to catch a squirrel with just a mop and an emesis basin?"
Though researchers have yet to agree on a formal definition of the phenomenon, experts confirm observed gestation periods of varying lengths, from as short as 48 hours to as long as 3 months, and have noted the generation of a menagerie of both rare and common animals, including squirrels, toads, blue-bottle flies, and a species of brown garden snake. "Every day brings a startling new story," admits Dr. Chimer. "Just yesterday a colleague recounted an examination of a patient during which a carbuncle erupted, emitting a small nuptial flight of Jackson Hole Bees."
Most experts point to a likely connection between the phenomenon and the presence in the human genome of what is commonly called "junk" or "vestigial" DNA. "One of the continuing mysteries of the human genome is the fact that most of it appears unused," explains Dr. Chimer. "We use some 3-4% of it, but the rest appears to be either an evolutionary artifact or simply a structural glue of sorts. Now we're beginning to realize that a number of non-human genomes may be stored there, dormant, waiting for some activating cue we have yet to identify."
Preliminary findings from several clinical surveys appear to confirm the presence of "appropriate, intronic, non-human genomes" in patients expressing mice and amphibians. "Our assays have consistently found species-appropriate shadow-genomes in all subjects yielding tree-frogs," explains Dr. Harald Hopping of The Johns Hopkins Gene and Cola Center. "While our conclusions aren't yet generalizable, they are suggestive."
Most popular among theories of the origin and causes of the syndrome is that identified by Dr. Chimer as "Spontaneous Biodiversification:" "Why is this syndrome concentrated here, in the Midwest? Well, the phenomenon has been observed most in biomes that have become largely monocultural through intense cultivation of a single human foodstuff. Biodiversity in the state of Nebraska is now extremely narrow: pretty much people and wheat. Everything else has been driven out. It may be that this syndrome is a previously unidentified natural mechanism for kick-starting diversity where it has been lost. These animals are erupting like symptoms of a genetic unconscious in distress."
Among avenues of treatment, excision has offered temporary relief from some "generations," but the syndrome is remarkably persistent. "Frankly, we are not recommending treatment at this time," notes Dr. Hopping. "The syndrome involves some physical and emotional discomfort, but does not, at this point in our research, appear to have lasting physical side-effects. In the cases of patients known to be gestating endangered or extinct species, we strongly encourage them to let symptoms run their course."
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