‘X-Files’ climax shines spotlight on gene editing

Image: Agents Einstein and Scully
FBI Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) takes a blood sample from Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in the season finale of “The X-Files.” (©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Ed Araquel / Fox)

Spoiler Alert! This post doesn’t reveal any major plot twists, but it does explore significant elements of the “X-Files” season finale. Stop reading now if you want it to remain a surprise.

This week’s season finale of “The X-Files” is one of the first prime-time TV shows to reference the revolutionary gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9, but it won’t be the last.

We won’t delve into the details of how CRISPR figures in the alien conspiracy. Let’s just say that the ability to snip out and insert genetic coding with molecular-scale precision is as good a match for the “X-Files” mythology as Scully is for Mulder.

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Check out real X-Files from the CIA and FBI

Sheffield UFOs
A grainy photo shows what appear to be flying saucers over Sheffield, England, in 1962. (Credit: CIA)

The FBI denies having a secret collection of X-Files like the ones that Mulder and Scully are investigating in “The X-Files” TV series – but you’d expect the alien conspiracy to say that, wouldn’t you?

Whether or not the truth is out there, both the FBI and the CIA have capitalized on the X-Files buzz to rehash some of their, um, more unusual cases. The FBI’s online vault features nine cases having to do with unexplained phenomena, including flying saucer reports, cattle mutilations, ESP and the purported Majestic-12 conspiracy.

The CIA took its turn just in time for this season’s “X-Files” reboot, which continues tonight with what’s said to be the best episode to date. The spooks offered up five flying-saucer surveys from 1952 that would warm the heart of Fox Mulder, the true believer on the fictional FBI’s X-Files team. Five more files, dating from 1949 to 1952, take a skeptical view that’s in keeping with the usual attitude of Mulder’s partner, Dana Scully.

The CIA also threw in its top 10 tips for investigating unidentified flying objects.

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This biologist slips science into ‘The X-Files’

Image: Anne Simon
University of Maryland biologist Anne Simon puts science into “The X-Files.” (Credit: Univ. of Md.)

If the truth is out there in this year’s reboot of “The X-Files,” microbiologist Anne Simon helped put it there.

Simon, a researcher at the University of Maryland at College Park, has been a science adviser to “X-Files” creator Chris Carter since the end of the original show’s first season in 1994. Carter was a family friend, and Simon was so taken by the show’s premiere that she volunteered her scientific services.

She loved seeing the interplay between FBI Agent Fox Mulder, who’s a true believer in UFOs, and Agent Dana Scully, who starts out as a thoroughly skeptical scientist. “How often are scientists portrayed as real people?” she told GeekWire. “Back then, never.”

The first show she consulted on, “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” featured a mysterious character with green blood, as well as a flask containing weird bacteria. Simon came up with a way to tell that the bacteria were of extraterrestrial origin.

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‘X-Files’ revival brings UFO sleuths into the light

Image: Alien visitation
Alien visitation is a big topic for “The X-Files.” (Credit: Fox)

UFOs are back in style, thanks in part to the return of “The X-Files” to television this weekend, almost 13 years after the last episode had its original airing. And while Mulder and Scully are delving into new anomalies in prime time, the folks who deal with UFO reports in real life are gearing up for renewed attention as well.

“X-Files, Y-Files, No-Files, I get calls from people who say they have evidence of alien visitation,” said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. “Either they’ve seen something, they’ve photographed something or they’re in touch with something.”

The calls generally come in at a regular rate, but Shostak does recall that there was a noticeable uptick while the original “X-Files” show was on TV.

Don Lincoln, a physicist at Fermilab who’s the author of “Alien Universe,” notes that attitudes toward UFOs tend to reflect depictions in popular culture, ranging from flying saucers and little green men to mysterious “Men in Black” and alien conspiracies. The original “X-Files” told tales of gray extraterrestrials and government coverups, and he’s curious to see whether the new series will follow the same path.

“It could well be that what the new X-Files will ultimately accomplish is to introduce a new generation to the mysteries of Area 51 and the unsettling idea of the Men in Black,” Lincoln wrote in an email. “I have said enough. They’re watching…”

One expert who won’t be watching is Peter Davenport, who’s the director of the National UFO Reporting Center, or NUFORC. He doesn’t even own a television.

“I try to avoid addressing works of fiction, because I am a scientist,” he told GeekWire from his home base in Harrington, Wash. “I collect data that is appropriate and accurate. … I find [fictional UFO tales] to be unsatisfying, seeing that I deal with the real thing, all day, every day.”

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