The Koenig Incident
by Charles C. Cole
Mr. Chairman, Senator Reiley, distinguished members of the committee. Thank you for your invitation. I am Dr. Corbin Kasselton, vice-president of the Center for Physiological Research in Homeostatic Studies. I’ve been tasked with presenting the key contributing factors surrounding the unfortunate events at the Koenig Testing Laboratories, Montauk facility, on 5 May 2011.
I am testifying today at the direct request of the committee, longtime supporters of innovative biological technologies. CEO Koenig, who was unable to attend this hearing, asked me to convey his deep regrets at the recent tragedy as well as his sincere hope that this still-immature science may be reviewed and discussed in an open and deliberative manner.
Also, I cannot proceed further without recognizing for the record the ultimate sacrifices made by 18 astronauts and cosmonauts (Soyuz 1, Soyuz 11, Apollo 1, Space Shuttle Challenger, Space Shuttle Columbia), essentially why we got into this business in the first place and underscoring the need for new and meaningful breakthroughs.
As you know, the early clinical trials of homeostasis as a preferred deep-sleep methodology were endorsed at the highest levels of federal government, pursuant to the President’s executive order giving NASA unique authority to approve certain procedures under accelerated development and deployment guidelines.
For those unfamiliar with this pioneering approach, homeostasis is the ability to regulate and maintain one’s internal environment with dependable consistency. It is a biological norm in all healthy mammals. Though rare in lesser species, it is uniquely stable, while dichotomous, in the microscopic tardigrade.
Tardigrades are water-dwelling animals whose maximum body length, until recently, was thought to be about 1.5 millimeters. The ubiquitous tardigrade can be found from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains. It is no surprise, then, that they are environmental extremists: surviving temperatures below -400° F. and above 300° F.
Tardigrades are one of the few species that are capable of reversibly suspending their metabolism and going into a “hidden life” state, or cryptobiosis, especially in response to anhydrous exposure. Some have been known to survive in a dehydrated state for nearly ten years.
In the case of a “tun” — the tardigrade’s designation while in biological stasis — the body folds, and the appendages withdraw, and wax extrudes onto its surface. While in this arguably “locked-down” state, their metabolism slows to less than 0.01% of normal, and their biological clock stops.
About ten years ago, a South American fisherman contacted a local colleague of mine when he accidentally caught in his net what he thought was a new genus of large freshwater jellyfish crossed with a fat, eight-legged rodent. The animal turned out be a previously undiscovered giant form of water bear, nicknamed mega-tardigrade.
We immediately recognized the scientific opportunities before us due to these creatures’ unparalleled survival matrix. In cooperation with the Rockefeller Gaia Project, our overseas marine biology unit, Koenig Philanthropic Research, through an extensive investigative period, was able to replicate the local environmental conditions conducive to successfully transporting and cultivating these uniquely macroscopic specimens back in the lab.
One avenue of interest that we thought could bring the most benefit to science was that of extreme hyposleep; that is, in slowing our internal clock to the point where we literally stop aging.
While for years, a boutique family-enrichment industry has commericalized cryogenics as a means for long-term storage of human-like lifeforms, specifically a zygote associated with IVF (in vitro fertilization), we at Koenig Philanthropic were convinced at the outset that we could take more established, more mature individuals and, essentially, secure them inside the intestine, which occupies much of the length of the tardigrade’s body, then immediately dehydrate the specimen in a controlled proprietary fashion that would, by-and-large, trigger a halt to their metabolism, as well as the metabolism of the pilot candidate inside.
We began our revolutionary research rather traditionally with rats, feral cats, and rhesus monkeys, with trials lasting an hour, a week, a month, even a year. Our documented success rate, detailed in the white-papers I’ve distributed, was an astounding 100 percent.
Except for the first wave of subjects, which were humanely euthanized and dissected as a part of our comprehensive scientific investigation, all exogenic organisms were later extracted and went on to fulfill normal life expectancies for their respective species without any detectable side-effects.
As America looks for answers beyond Earth’s orbit, the option of manned flight without more effective long-sleep technologies appears “lost in space.” So, emboldened by our results and eager to advance our theories, Mr. Koenig, himself a patriot and a veteran, partnered with a selective military department for scrutiny and oversight, as well as increased funding, peer review, and, most significantly, alpha patients (i.e. human volunteers). It is at this juncture of mission, money and motivation that our trials took off in earnest.
We had multiple teams working independently toward integral components of a greater common goal. Team A was able to create a better bug, a tardigrade large enough to host an adult human.
Team B developed the patented drying process that rapidly and effectively kick-started the armored sleep-state while disenabling the tardigrade’s enzymatic instinct to metabolize its intestinal contents.
Team C, led by highly trained engineers, was staffed by dedicated laborers who built a sizable laboratory in record time where we could monitor our alpha patients in an environmentally controlled, secure facility.
The Montauk lab was state-of-the-art, with digital cameras recording every active corner of the rather large drying room. We also had real-time physiological data-collecting devices carefully and strategically attached to the hosts as well as the alpha patients.
With our all-volunteer army of 23 carefully screened subjects, we insisted every safe protocol be followed to prevent them from becoming accidental victims of some novel and admittedly controversial solution. Our success could only be measured in terms of their survival.
Which brings us to our darkest day, 5 May 2011, a day we hope to honor by responding appropriately and severely to the lessons learned. Even though we had equipment that allowed for dependable remote monitoring of our patients, there was an extra — some would say superfluous — layer of onsite intervention and support. Our military associates called it “built-in redundancy,” while the scientists generally referred to it as the “wild card” or the “human factor.”
We had a rotating guard whose main responsibility was to notice anything “off,” not necessarily to an extent that an alarm would sound, because we had programmatic triggers in case thresholds were exceeded. But did a wire appear loose? Was there any distress from our participants? Did the guard get a vibe? The guards were not supposed to sleep, were not supposed to watch TV, and were on duty for twelve hours at a stretch.
There was a small break room with very large windows called “The Fish Tank,” with a stocked refrigerator, Keurig coffee maker, and a new microwave. On this particular day, Private O. L. had been at a party the night before, hit it off with a young lady, and arrived less than rested for his 6:00 a.m. shift. These facts are indisputable.
In an effort to keep himself awake, he put a bag of popcorn in the microwave, set the timer, and stepped into the adjoining restroom. Whether he was throwing up or had fallen asleep or was just functionally slow, the popcorn overcooked. Instead of using the pre-programmed button marked “Popcorn,” which would have charged the unit for a total of 3 minutes, he manually accidentally programmed it for 30 minutes!
The popcorn burned and, in fact, burst into flame. The guard returned from the bathroom, smelled the burned popcorn, and removed it from the microwave with the product bag still on fire. He threw the “grease fire” into the sink and sprayed it with water. The flames spattered.
An alert scientist watching these events transpire remotely, phoned the kitchen to make sure circumstances were under control. While the popcorn was in the sink, smoldering, more smoky rather than less, the guard heard the phone and realized all of this was being recorded. He stepped aside to answer the phone, some six feet away, said, “Just a minute,” shrugged at the cameras and then dropped the burning popcorn into the trash.
He then brought the trashcan with him to the phone so he could dispose of the popcorn and talk at the same time. By now, the smoke was drifting into the large drying room, the state-of-the-art laboratory, everywhere around him. In a moment of thoughtless frustration, he put the trashcan outside the kitchen, directly into the drying room, and closed the door, to concentrate on the call.
At this point, the fire-suppressing water sprinklers in the ceiling kicked on automatically, in this case operating as a biocatalyst, soaking and thereby reviving our formerly desiccated tardigrades and endangering our subjects. According to the monitoring equipment, some tardigrades began to respond in as little as four seconds.
The scientist in the remote office began running down the hall to save what we could of our grand experiment. Disaster recovery protocol was initiated. We did everything we could to save as many as we could.
(The hearing is interrupted by members of the media bursting into the conference room.)
Copyright © 2012 by Charles C. Cole