Science Fiction and Fantasy | An Indian Experience

Dinosaur Meat is Tasty By Dr. Anil Aggrawal |
Issue 12

Dinosaur Meat is Tasty By Dr. Anil Aggrawal

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I had no idea how dinosaur meat tastes like, and God knows I would never have bothered about it either, but suddenly one fine day my twelve year old son Tarun developed a fancy for it, and told me to arrange dinosaur meat somehow. I don’t know what had happened exactly on that day, but my wife tells me that his teacher told him about dinosaurs that day and showed him- rather the whole class- some pictures of dinosaurs. Tarun developed an immediate fancy for dinosaurs and wanted to have dinosaur meat straightaway. Instead of trying to know more about their life styles, how they became extinct, and so on, he wanted to have their meat. The glutton!

Well, living in the 23rd century is not easy. Way back in the 20th century, in my forefathers’ time, children could be managed more easily. They could be calmed down with things like video games, computers, chocolates and other similar things, but 23rd century kids are really fussy. They have seen all of this stuff too much and can not be hoodwinked so easily. And then there is this weird state law preventing cruelty to children, which among other things stipulates that all “genuine” demands of children have to be met by their parents. If the demands are not met, parents could be fined severely. I personally know of some cases in which the parents were even imprisoned. I do not know how the state construes a “genuine” demand, but even my limited knowledge of law was sufficient for me to know that Tarun’s demand would be considered as “genuine” and I could be in trouble if I did not meet his demand. Certainly in an age of cloning, procuring dinosaur meat was not difficult. Anything which is not difficult to arrange by the parents, and does not have a negative or depraving influence on the physical, psychological and moral character of children could be construed as a genuine demand.

Well, I would first tell you what cloning is, in case you are unaware of it. It is a scientific technique whereby one could develop a whole living organism out of just one complete and intact cell, or even from a, say, computer printout of the organism’s DNA battery. DNA as we all know is a huge chemical, shaped rather like a twisted ladder. It resides in the nuclei of the cells of all organisms. It is their essence, their soul if you so like. It is responsible for the full physical make-up of an organism and if one knew the whole DNA sequence, the organism could practically be grown out of nothing. One simply synthesized the requisite DNA in a test-tube, gave it a proper medium to replicate, and it would prepare the organism by itself. In fact DNA is something like a die. Once you have the die, the resulting gadget gets manufactured practically all by itself!

Now in the 23rd century mankind had the DNA complement of all the organisms which ever existed on earth. And so I requested the DNA complement of Tyrannosaurus rex from The Genbank, the largest library of DNA anywhere in India . You might ask how the DNA complement of the dinosaurs had been acquired in the first place. Well, the answer is not difficult – the fossilised eggs! They had prepared the whole DNA complement from the nuclei found in those cells. The DNA complement of all the dinosaurs had been catalogued in this way.

I had to pay a hefty sum of Rs 5,000 for the DNA complement of Tyrannosaurus rex. As usual, the library gave me a form to fill up in which, among other things, I had to write the reason for requesting the DNA complement of an extinct organism. Well, there were suggestions like “research”, “preparing a sanctuary”, “making a pet” and so on already written on the form, but I had to tick “Others”, as no reason fitted my requirements. Had I told them my reason in detail, I doubt they would have given me the DNA complement, state laws on cruelty to children notwithstanding. After all gene libraries have their own code of conduct too. They can’t give you DNA complements for frivolous reasons like eating meat of an extinct organism.

To the best of my knowledge no one had ever wanted to eat dinosaur meat before. Perhaps it never occurred to anyone. But thanks to Tarun, I was now in this unenviable situation of preparing a live dinosaur, then killing it and preparing its meat. After getting the DNA complement, I contacted Magnaclone, a professional cloning company to clone the organism for me. Mr. Gill, the director of the company charged me another Rs 5,000. Well, as I told you, living in the 23rd century is not easy, certainly not if you have children!

The live dinosaur- a baby in fact- was delivered to me in about 4 weeks’ time. Don’t ask me how I killed the dinosaur and prepared the meat. I would best like to forget that dreadful incident. But what’s important is that finally I did succeed in providing Tarun with a good supply of dinosaur meat for a full week if he so desired.

Some hours after he consumed the meat on the first day – with relish, as far as I can say- he developed a severe throbbing headache. I thought he had caught viral fever, but a routine laboratory examination did not reveal any virus in his nasal secretions. Well, if I forgot to tell you earlier, let me tell you now, that I am a doctor, and I know all about headaches. I gave Tarun a tablet of aspirin, thinking it to be a simple constitutional symptom. Perhaps he was too excited about being the first human on earth to eat dinosaur meat. Tarun did get some relief, but not as much as I had expected.

Next day he retrieved some more meat from the refrigerator and helped himself to another large helping. To my utter confusion, he developed the headache once again. Suspecting something in the meat, I consumed some myself, and surprise of all surprises, even I was besieged with a terrible throbbing headache.

Well, even a moron would understand by now that there was something in the meat, which was causing the headache. I am not exactly a moron, so I submitted the meat for an intensive lab analysis, and was surprised a great deal when the lab report told me that the meat was very rich in histamine. It was in a quantity of 5.2 mg per gram of meat to be exact. Normally it should have been in picograms. It was thus at least a million times more concentrated than what one would have normally expected. Histamine does cause throbbing headache so that explained quite neatly why Tarun and I got throbbing headaches on eating that dreadful meat.

A word about histamine before we proceed further – the word Histamine comes from a Latin word meaning “tissue amine”. It is found in all living tissues, but in extremely small quantities. Synthesized by Windaus and Vogt in 1907, it was later found to be responsible for allergic manifestations. Well, if I am getting incomprehensible, I offer my sincere apologies. We doctors have a penchant for talking in our own weird gibberish. In plain and simple words, it is a chemical which is liberated within the body during an allergic reaction. Let me explain it further in some detail. Someone who is allergic to, say, pollen gets an attack of flushing and wheezing on being exposed to pollen, because through a complicated mechanism, which I don’t find any reason to explain here, the pollen trigger the release of histamine within the body. Histamine is then responsible for flushing and wheezing. If an injection of histamine was given to an individual as such, he would develop flushing and wheezing just as if he was suffering from an allergic reaction.

My analytical mind (excuse me for not being so humble!) at once began seeing the repercussions of this unexpected finding. Was this histamine due to some mutation within the dinosaurs’ body? Well it appeared so, because next day I requested the DNA of Brontosaurus and instead of getting the whole organism from the DNA complement, scanned the complement in my computer. And sure enough, within minutes, my computer pin-pointed the gene for histamine. It was sitting there with a “multiplier gene”, which compelled the histamine gene to over-generate, i.e. to produce more than the normal quantities of histamine. So it appeared that the bodies of all dinosaurs had large quantities of histamine.

I do not know how this mutation was brought about. But I can make a reasonable guess. Administration of Histamine in large doses liberates large doses of adrenaline from the adrenal medulla. Excuse me for introducing some complicated terms once again so suddenly, but I shall try to explain. Adrenal medulla is the core of a gland sitting on the top of each kidney. It secrets a hormone adrenaline, which prepares us for fight, flight and fright! If you are angry and want to hit someone, the adrenal medulla within your body would start liberating lot of adrenaline. Adrenaline increases your blood pressure, increases your respiratory rate and does some other important things to your body, which make you easier to hit that person. If a mouse is terrified on seeing a cat, the adrenal medulla within his body would start liberating more adrenaline, so that it could flee away more quickly. Adrenaline is thus a hormone of fight, flight and fright.

Now what was happening at the end of Jurassic period. Mammals were evolving which were eating away the eggs of these large lumbering dinosaurs. The dinosaurs could not protect their eggs from the sprightly mammals, because they were too bulky to move as quickly as small mammals like rats. Thus in a vain effort to compensate, the evolutionary forces equipped their histamine gene with a “multiplier gene”, which could increase the supply of histamine. As we have seen, large doses of histamine liberate adrenaline from adrenal medulla. Adrenaline was required in great quantities to attack these small mammals, and hence this mutation.

But what really happened? We all know that nature is blind. It strives to equip the organism with the best possible solution, but sometimes even evolutionary forces can go haywire. Providing more adrenaline was not really a solution for these enormously bulky dinosaurs. They needed something better that; something radically different. But once evolution has started in a particular direction, may be as a result of chance, it would tend to proceed in that direction only. In a “runaway evolution”, the multiplier gene began getting stronger and stronger, till it began generating too much histamine. Too much histamine was naturally not good for the health of dinosaurs. It can cause the heart to beat extremely fast and irregularly, so fast and irregularly that it is dangerous to life. The condition is technically known as ventricular fibrillation. The dinosaurs began suffering from ventricular fibrillation as a matter of routine, and ultimately got wiped out from this planet. They became extinct!

Well what did I say? They became extinct! Oh! So now I know why the dinosaurs became extinct. Thanks to Tarun, and his weird request, I ultimately discovered it. The problem had baffled the scientists too long. To my surprise, some more tests and investigations by the paleobiologists-the scientists who study the biology of ancient and extinct creatures- confirmed my conjecture. Dinosaur meat turned out to be tasty not only for Tarun, but for me as well! I was nominated for the “Intergalactic Science Award” the next year.

Cover pic by waferboard.

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A professor of Forensic Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, Dr. Anil loves to exchange ideas on forensics and science fiction and writes science fiction related to forensics. He has published nine books so far.