Sciencing the Shit Out BioShock Plasmids

Science actually has a solution to giving us special abilities, much like BioShock's plasmids. It's almost too crazy to believe.

I cannot express enough how excited I am to talk to you about today’s subject. First off, we are talking about BioShock. I have never been a fan of first person shooters. I thought DOOM, the original, was good, but I knew from that point on that these kinds of games would never be for me. That’s why the Call of Duty and Battlefield series never really intrigued me. I wasn’t even really interested in the Battlefront series, even though I am a huge Star Wars fan and those are good games. No, really, I didn’t want anything to do with them until a friend practically begged me to play BioShock. It really changed the genre for me and apparently for a lot of people.

BioShock proved that you could tell an interesting and impactful story within the mechanics of a first-person shooter. Although there are some choices in the story, I wouldn’t call it a choose-my-adventure type, like BioWare games. But what I found most intriguing about the story was that it didn’t matter if there were actual choices or not, I was still compelled to finish just to see what happened. I guess what I’m saying is that you should play it if you haven’t.

If you haven’t played it yet, I’m not going to spoil anything today, but I’d like to talk about one of the major components to the main character Jack. They are called Plasmids. Essentially, these stimulants give Jack special abilities that humans really wouldn’t have naturally. However, you might be surprised to learn that it’s not the far-fetched science fiction you might think. Let’s take a moment to science the shit out of BioShock’s Plasmids.


Let’s first talk about the in-game science behind plasmids and how they work. I should note that this is in-game science, not real life science. It uses elements that don’t exist in the natural world, but there could be re-world corollaries, which I will get into later.

Plasmids are made from a substance called ADAM. This is a genetic modifying substance from a sea slug. The story of Rapture, an underwater city, revolves around the creation, use, and abuse of ADAM. Rapture was intended to be a utopia hidden away from the troubled surface world. However, as you find out rather quickly, it didn’t work out that way. The city is crawling with zombie like people who have clearly lost their minds. It makes for a very frightening setting.

ADAM itself modifies people at the genetic level. The lore of the game states that ingesting or in some fashion injecting the bioluminescent fluid from the ADAM slug will cause a person to regenerate or otherwise heal themselves. It’s said that the substance was first discovered after a dock worker regained use of his hand years after a crippling injury.

Reproducing ADAM

Of course, after that, the demand for ADAM rose higher. It appeared to heal any and all injuries and diseases, but there were side effects, mainly a physical addiction to the drug. A person taking ADAM would need a constant supply of the drug in order to remain healthy and sane. Spoiler alert: that’s where the zombies came from.

The truly nefarious side of ADAM comes from how it’s produced. In order to keep up with the demands of populace of Rapture, the slugs had to be mass produced. This could only be done with a human host, a young girl, to be specific. A girl, about the age 5 to 8, ingested the slug which formed a symbiotic relationship with the host. While the slug is in the girl, ADAM is regurgitated by her and used to produce Plasmids and other genetic modifying products. Yeah, it’s gross on multiple levels.

Plasmids, which are the next step in the genetic modifying drug, don’t just heal people, but also give them special abilities like throwing fire or electricity. I could probably do a whole article on each of the different plasmids and how they do what they do, but tackling the idea of genetic enhancement should be the first stop of this tour.

Cas9 and CRISPR

In what might look like fringe science sits a Cas9, or as they are appropriately called sometimes: Cas9 plasmids. This injection will literally change the genetic code of cells through a genetic editing process that I’ve mentioned before called CRISPR.

To give you an oversimplified version of how Cas9 and CRISPR work I would like to tell you about bacteriophages. This is a virus that infects and replicates itself inside a bacteria. Skipping over the complicated explanation of the process, phages inject their genetic code into the host bacteria and simply take it over, causing the bacteria to change on a genetic level so that the virus can survive and reproduce.

Few bacteria survive this, but when they do they produce a strand of DNA called CRISPR that matches the virus DNA. The protein called Cas9 then examines the DNA of the bacteria and when it finds a match to the infected DNA, it cuts it out and replaces it with the correct DNA. This system is very precise, and to top it all off, it’s programmable. All that has to be done is find the sequence to remove and know the sequence it should be replaced with.

Now we get into the fringe science arena, if somehow we knew the genetic sequence that caused an electric eel to produce it’s shocking properties, it wouldn’t be outside the possibilities of science to give those properties to humans. We aren’t there yet, but maybe someday in the next 50 years we will be.

Circling back to BioShock, if our ADAM sea slugs naturally formed Cas9 plasmids by feeding off or forming a symbiotic relationship with the little girls, then we aren’t too far from the science fiction of BioShock becoming reality.

That’s how I science the shit out of BioShock’s plasmids, but it’s not just one person’s research that keeps science going. It should be tested and retested. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Published Oct. 9th 2016
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