“EUREKA!!!” cried Sebastian looking at the computer screen before him. His research associate came rushing towards him to know what happened.
“Professor, what is that?”
“Vimala, you have no idea what I’ve just found”
And he explained it throwing her into shock.
North Carolina, 2015
Students from the College of Agricultural and Animal sciences studying Bachelor degree paid visit to the Institute of Biotechnology in North Carolina State University to study the activities that take place in a biotechnology lab. Dr. Vanja Rao, Principal Scientist, was explaining students various protocols that are followed there. One of the girl students asked her:
“Madam, can we get a hard copy of the protocols, for the record, if you don’t mind”
“Of course dear, give me a minute. Nitchal!! Varada!! Please come over here.”
Nitschal and Varada are research scholars working under the guidance of Dr. Vanaja Rao. Both of them are young, energetic, enthusiastic and the hardest working students of the lab and her favourites. They looked like a typical student wearing glasses, white aprons and gloves for the hands.
“Can you please fetch me the extraction protocols. Don’t bring yours. Here…take these keys…open the first drawer of my table…under a book you’ll find a pile of papers clipped together. Bring them to me…”
“Yes mam” said Nitschal taking the keys form Vanaja.
“Listen! Don’t do any mischief! I’ve my eyes on you!” warned Vanaja and gave a small smile.
They took the keys and left and Vanaja started showing the students some instruments.
“Weird right? She usually doesn’t give keys to her draw to anyone” Nitschal said looking at the keys. They are like any normal key bunch with three keys for three of her drawers possibly.
“Yes, maybe she started believing in us”
“May be she is occupied with the students”
“Yes, the students…She will never believe anyone…”
“She could risk our peeking into her treasure than the curious students who can set fire to this lab”
They reached her cabin and using the first key Nitschal opened the door and entered it where he opened the first drawer of her table. As said, there was a book under which is a clipped bunch of papers. He took them and locked the drawer and started to leave, but Varada stopped him.
“This is our only chance. Let’s see what is there in the remaining two cabinets.”
“Are are crazy…if she finds out?”
“If only she finds out…” said Varada with a cunning smile. She took the keys from Nitschal and using the third key opened the second drawer. There is nothing interesting; the usual journals, some books and some printed articles. Varada closed it and concentrated on the third drawer.
“How do we open this?”
“Yes, there are only three keys right? Try all of them”
Varada tried the three keys, but in vain. Then she looked at the key hole and found it interesting. The key hole looked as if it will be opened by two keys used at a time. She then looked at the three keys and found that the keys to the first two drawers are specially made compared to the key to the cabin door. She looked at them carefully and felt excited when she found that the ridges on the one of the keys fit perfectly into the furrows of another. Her heart started beating fast as she joined the two keys and inserted into the key hole. The drawer opened revealing its contents. Her excitement drained when she found nothing other than some stationary like markers, cellophane tape, punch and some others. Feeling disappointed she was about to close when Nitschal stopped her.
“Wait, there has to be something inside it”
“There is nothing except some junk”
“No…a drawer with a combination of two keys…there should be something important inside it”
He searched inside the drawer once again moving all the items here and there. When he was about to give up, he found something. At the back side of the drawer, there is a small hinge at the bottom. After removing the things from the drawer, he moved it towards him slowly. There was a cabinet below it. Varada gasped and looked into it. There is a brown cover inside it. It was addressed to Dr. Vanaja Rao from her sister Dr. Vimala. They took it and left the cabin. They gave the papers which Vanaja asked for and went to their cabin.
“Should we open this?” asked Nitschel.
“What if it is personal?”
“Anything person should be at her home, not here”
“Ok, then go on…”
Varada opened it. There is a letter written by Vimala to her sister.
I’m fine here. Hope you are the same there. We’ve made a fantastic discovery. I’ll share it with you when we meet. Right now it is not possible, because my life is in danger. But don’t worry I’m with him. Don’t come finding me. Otherwise you will be in danger too.
Nitschal and Varada were confused. They turned letter; but nothing is there on the backside. Varada observed it with a magnifying lens and her jaw dropped open. It is a ciper. Clearly some of the letters are highlighted in bold. They took a paper and started writing the bold letters:
“What does this mean?” asked Varada scratching her hair.
They stared at those letters for a long time; but couldn’t make any meaning out of it. Nitchal looked at the letter once again and at the right bottom corner there is something that caught his eyes.
“Varada, look at this”, said Nitschal showing what he has just found.
“6-2-13, CU. CU as in ‘see you’”
“No idiot! It means Columbia University where she worked”
“And the numbers do they indicate address to some building?”
“No…but I’ve a better idea.”
Hurriedly he broke the letters into three groups as:
FUTREU SI BCIOHTENOYLGO
“These are misspelt words”
“Yes. The first one should be FUTURE, the second IS, and the third should be undoubtedly BIOTECHNOLOGY”
“FUTURE IS BIOTECHNOLOGY”
“But BIOTECHNOLOGY IS FUTURE seems more meaningful grammatically”
“Yes, but what does this mean”
“Let’s find out” replied Nitscahl in an exited tone.
“The only way to find some answers is to visit the abandoned laboratory of Dr. Sabastian Stone and his research associate Dr. Vimala, who is the sister of Dr. Vanaja Rao.”
“It is abandoned. How can we get there?”
“I’ve a friend working in the biotechnology lab there, he can smuggle us there”
They took permission for one day from Vanaja and left for Columbia the next morning. They reached the Columbia University using a private cab in the evening. Using the campus map, they found the Biotechnology department. Nitschal called his friend and with his help they reached the abandoned lab.
“Guys make sure I’m not expelled”
“Believe in us…you will become famous” said Varada smiling. Nitschal’s friend left them to themselves. After walking a few yards, he took out his cell phone from his pocket and called someone.
Nitschal and Varada looked at the lab. There is a small keyboard beside the main door.
“We’ve to type the password…”
“Yes, but what it might be?”
“I believe the phrase we’ve found from the letter should be the password”
“Ok, hit it…”
Nitschal carefully typed the letter his fingers shaking with excitement and fear that it may blow some alarm. Fortunately the door slid open sideways without making any noise. Both of them were relieved. They entered the lab and started their search. There is nothing interesting apart from the normal biotechnological instruments like electrophoretic equipment, centrifuge, pipettes, glassware and some chemicals. They found nothing of any importance in the drawers even. When they are about to be done with the searching Varada accidentally dropped the photo frame of Dr. Sebastian which fell on the ground with the glass shattered.
“Careful damn it!!” hissed Nitschel.
Varada took the photo from the glass pieces and observed the image before her.
“He is handsome…”
“He is dead…”
Nitschel snatched the photo from her and took a brief look at it before turning it back. His pupils widened and his heart stopped for a second. There is a message on the backside of the photo:
Life is based on four magical words…
First letters first and last letters last…
But only alcohol can remove the moon when the sun shines at night
Follow the nucleotides…Start them and then stop them…then you’ll find what you seek
Mind you…strike once or you banish it forever.
They looked at each other confused. They started trying to figure some meaning out of it.
“Life is based on four magical words? I knew it is only three words…I love you”
“Thank you…but it is not the correct answer” laughed Nitschal. Varada slapped him on the back.
“What is it then?”
Nitschal thought for some time and said:
“The life is based on the metabolic processes.”
“And the metabolic processes are catalysed by enzymes which are actually proteins”
“I knew all these things…come to the point”
“Proteins are made up of amino acids which in turn come from the translation of RNA which in turn is transcribed from DNA.”
“The four magical words are DNA, RNA, amino acids and proteins, which constitute the central dogma given by Watson. This is the basis for the entire life on the planet earth.”
“And what does the next line means?”
“May be we should use the first letters D, R, A and P for something and the last letters A, A, S and N for other.”
“But proteins end with S no?”
“No, amino acids form a protein. I think we should use the singular form”
“I know what the next line means. An alcohol removes something over another thing which is visible only in dark.”
“Follow the nucleotides. There are five nucleotides Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, Thiamine and Uracil in DNA and RNA put together.”
“Start them and then stop them…as in start and stop codons of protein synthesis?”
“Yes…good going girl…”
“I’m not dumb as you think. We know that AUG is the start codon, but we have three stop codons UAA, UAG and UGA. Which one we have to consider?”
“No idea…better try the first”
“We’ll see…and the last line…”
“It means we have to type the password or whatever only once. If we type wrong, we are trapped and cannot go back or front.”
They started with the third clue. They started wiping the work areas with cotton swabs dipped in ethyl alcohol and dimmed the lights. Starting form one corner, they moved slowly along the tables to find any clue. At the centre of the work area, they found an ‘X’ mark glowing as if painted in Radium.
Nitschel tapped on the marked area and the area around it. The marked area seemed a bit hallow. He thought for a moment and gently pressed the mark. A small square area cut itself and went down. A square keyboard came to life. He typed the first clue: ‘DRAP’. The door of the cabinet below the work area opened revealing an atrium. Using the torch, they peeked inside. It looked like a small chamber with metal steps starting from the opening. They carefully ducked down and entered the chamber taking the stairs.
The chamber might have sensed their arrival and it illuminated the area. Suddenly there was a movement and the chamber started descending down at a full speed. It was a lift taking them down. Both of them shivered from top to bottom fearing it may collapse at the bottom. It stopped after a few minutes, but the door never opened. They waited for some time, but nothing happened.
“Oh my god!! Are we trapped here?” yelled Varada.
“Don’t freak me out!!! There has to be some way out”
Nitschal started banging the door. But it stood as a big boulder without moving an inch. He started observing the chamber. On the opposite side there was a slit towards the right corner in the middle. Using his index finger, he thrust it towards him releasing one more square key board.
“Really!!! How many we passwords we have to type” cursed Varada. Nitschal looked at her rather disapprovingly.
“Ok, go on, what have we to type now?”
“The last words…” replied Nitschal and was about to type when Varada stopped him.
“What if we have to use the second words?”
“Think about it…may be last ones are meant for the last door. May be we are at the second door?”
“I don’t believe so. If there is second one, the message would have mentioned it”
“What if your belief is wrong? Remember, the message clearly says we have one chance.”
She may be correct thought Nitschal.
“Ok, we go for heads and tails. Heads me correct and tails you correct”
He tossed a coin and caught it. He opened his arms to find heads. As agreed before he typed the last words ‘AASN’. The door of the lift started opening to the other side.
“You are welcome” said Nitschal smiling at the disappointed and frightened (if it happened to be tails!!) face of Varada.
The doors of the lift opened to reveal a circular room which was painted in white which seemed to have amplified the white light coming from the tube lights illuminating the room eye strikingly bright. Varada and Nitschel stepped into the room, astounded unable to believe what is before them. They started looking around the room taking every detail into their eyes. A short cylindrical pillar in the middle of the room finally caught their attention. There was a glass plate on the top of it. Anything that was on its top was already taken.
“What is this thing?”
“Let’s find out…” replied Nitschal moving towards it.
They moved around it to find a small square keyboard like the one they had encountered previously. Nitschal typed the last clue: AUGUAA
The pillar started moving; its outer skin sunk down revealing what seemed like a can of petriplates releasing fumes of liquid nitrogen outside and it seemed to sit on a slender glass cylinder which carried rolled papers. They looked at the petriplates which are labelled with something written on them. Nitschal took one of them and read the label.
“These are bacterial colonies of some gene inserted into their plasmids”
“What is that?”
“It is not written here”
“Let’s see in the cylinder”
Nitschal lifted the can slightly releasing the thin cylinder to Varada. There is a bunch of papers rolled inside the cylinder. Varada took them out and started reading.
“Holy mother of god!!!! This is impossible”
“Varada, what is that?”
“These papers give the information of two genes which enable the plants to take up gold or Aurum molecules from the soil and transport them into leaves.”
“Yes, even the sequences of the genes are given here and the protocols for their synthesis, cloning, transformation and tissue culture protocols for the regeneration of modified cells are also described here.”
Nitschal took the papers from the Varada who seemed to have entered into a trance and read it for himself.
“This is awesome. That means plants can mine gold for us. That explains why they have hidden it deep down here.”
Varada stood there is shock without saying anything. He shook her into reality.
“Oh my god!! We have found what we should not be found”
“Yes my darling”
“That means we can just extract gold as easily as extracting chlorophyll?”
“I hope so”
“How is it even possible? How can plants take in such a heavy metal?”
“Like they are taking lead”
Before they continue their conversation, someone entered into the room shouting
“HAND UP!!! DON’T MOVE!! YOU ARE UNDER ARREST”
There are five police men pointing their guns towards them. They did what they were asked involuntarily as they were hit by shock after shock. They cuffed them and took them upside. Nitschal recovered first.
“Why are you arresting us?”
“You have entered the abandoned area and trying to steal something”
“We are not stealing anything. We are just helping to reveal a ground breaking discovery which was hidden for twenty years”
“You can continue your nonsense later. Move now” said one of the police men nudging him forwards. On their way out, he saw his friend smiling at him waving his cell who spilled the beans to the Sheriff department.
“You son of a…” cursed Nitschal.
Dr. Vanaja Rao fought with the court on behalf of her students highlighting to the jury the importance of the discovery they had revealed. Finally they were released. They met at her office later that evening and she told everything.
“I knew about it before. My sister gave me some hints. But I feared what would happen to me if I show it to the world. The government found about the experiments Dr. Sebastian and my sister were doing and considered its repercussions harmful for the society. So they sealed the laboratory and both of them went missing. Nobody knows till now what happened to them. Government informed me that they never found their bodies. So I gave up”
“But the letter?”
“Yes, my sister might have written it before missing. At least I’m happy that the world now knows what they have discovered which cost them their lives. Thanks to you”
“Hope it is not misused”
Vanaja hugged them saying “I’m so proud of you dears”
Suddenly she released them and started moving towards her cabin in a fast pace. She stood before a bonsai neem plant in the window.
“You said something was missing on the pillar down in that chamber right?”
“What did it look like?”
“Some kind of plate we keep beneath a plot to collect the run off soil”
“I got this delivered to me from my sister two days after the letter.”
“This is the first plant which can mine the gold…” replied Vanaja touching its golden green leaves.