David Dun Bestselling Thriller Author
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International Thriller Writers Bestselling Thriller Writer David Dun


Facts Behind the Fiction

Ever wonder if the science behind novels is real?


For novelists and readers alike, thrillers are an entertaining way of learning about something real. Much of the world’s bestselling fiction is well researched and uses fact as the basis and inspiration for a fictional tale.

Thriller writer David Dun has been drawn to science in creating the backgrounds for all five of his thrillers. His latest, The Black Silent (Pinnacle Books, 2005), is about an organism (Arcs), found deep in the ocean, that can produce methane gas for energy and whose extreme life span, Dun believes, may provide clues to human longevity. Black Silent is a page-turning thriller about a crisis that could forever change our lives if the secret of the “Arcs” and their astounding life cycle ended up in the wrong hands. The novel is action adventure and not a science book and many readers of David Dun’s fiction read for the thrill and not the facts; however, for those interested in the backbone of the mystery, the science behind the plot, learning what is true and what is fiction, then this section is for you.

We begin with a light once over with often asked, science related questions. For those of you interested in the risks and benefits of our undersea methane stockpile, Arcs, or the science of staying young, you can keep reading. Perhaps you will enjoy learning what we learned from the research about staying young longer.

If you plan to read the book, but haven’t yet, we suggest you read the book before reading this material. Enjoy.


Frequently Asked Questions About the Science of The Black Silent

Are all the claims you make for this technology being adapted as a “fountain of youth” to retard aging true?

The basic mechanisms of aging explained in the world of The Black Silent are well documented in the scientific literature. Arcs do enjoy extreme life spans of literally millions of years as explained below. However, using the secrets of the Arcs to extend human life spans to hundreds of years has not actually been accomplished. Scientists are working to solve the human ageing issues that are accurately described and explained in The Black Silent and this website

Why do Arcs have such incredibly long lifespans?

At the molecular level, humans and other animals and plants fall into a type of living things called Eukaryotes. This group is made up of living things whose DNA is encapsulated within the nucleus of their cells. The chromosomes of Eukaryotes are formed into the famous double helix shape of a pair of intertwined strands. At the ends of the strands are multiple copies of a specialized kind of DNA, called telomeres. These telomeres have been likened to the plastic ends on shoelaces if you are trying to picture their structure. Eukaryotic cells (which includes human cells) reproduce by dividing and every time this happens one of the copies of the telomeres is lost. When all of the telomeres in the cell are used up the DNA becomes unstable and the cell dies, resulting in aging of the organism. That would be you if you are the organism under consideration. To retain our youth we rely on being able to replace our cells. Telomeres act as a built in clock that limits the number of times a cell can divide and replace itself. This in turn determines how long we can live. So to achieve longevity we would want to thwart the effect of shortening telomeres.

In contrast, archaea (Arcs) fall into a group called Prokaryotes. The cells of Prokaryotes are much smaller than those of Eukaryotes and do not have a nucleus. Their DNA is usually found in the form of a single chromosome formed in the shape of a large unbroken loop and lacking the telomeres found in Eukaryotic (including human) DNA.

Humans like other Eukaryotes have a limited lifespan encoded into their DNA in the form of the number of telomere copies included on their chromosomes. Prokaryotes (archaea) have virtually unlimited lifespans partly because they lack telomeres on their chromosomes.

Research has shown that the shortening of telomeres and subsequent aging of a cell can be delayed by the enzyme telomerase; however, this enzyme is also likely to cause tumors. In plain English, telomerase seems to stop the ticking clock that limits a cell’s ability to reproduce with age but at the same time it is associated with cancer.

We have not yet learned Dr. Ben Anderson's fictional genetic trick from the Arcs. Although scientists are making advances in studying and modifying telomerase to inhibit aging, we are still pretty much back in the dark ages as far as the average person is concerned.

In addition to the problem created by shortening telemeres we humans have another problem called oxidation. This is a process by which our DNA is damaged. We can eat blue berries and swallow pills that claim to be anti-oxidants in a more or less futile attempt to preserve our DNA a little while longer. And, although great advances are being made in blood chemistry as it affects arterial health, and we may be in the process of learning how to buy some human longevity by protecting our DNA, it’s not here yet.

We explain this below for those interested in more detail. We probably do age because: (1) Our DNA oxidizes and otherwise deteriorates; (2) our bodies cells have a built in time clock (telomeres) and can only replace themselves a finite number of times; our blood chemistry hardens our arteries and makes them more susceptible to various forms of deterioration; our brain cells deteriorate and otherwise succumb to plaque, and for the most part are not replaced.

Mice on low calorie diets or with their growth hormones extinguished do live markedly longer lives. Scientists are now trying low caloric intake diets on primates. The diet seems to protect the DNA by limiting the amount of free radicals produced in the cells. Each cell has within it microscopic dots called mitochondria that could be analogized to tiny furnaces. The oxidation that we spoke of is caused by so called escaping free radicals from the mitochondria. Free radicals are nothing more than unstable oxygen molecules lacking one electron. Some scientists speculate that caloric restriction works by limiting the amount of fuel (oxygen) that the cell mitochondria needs to process and allowing them to perform better for a longer period, producing fewer free radicals (escaping unstable oxygen molecules). So, many of the reasons for aging discussed in the The Black Silent are correct based on current scientific thinking.

One of the elements in the story, part of the antidote to aging, was the use of statins to control cholesterol and the use of genetically derived drugs to make lippo-proteins larger. Researchers are, in fact, working on drugs to increase lippo-protein size. We currently have statins such as Lipitor® in use (in fact they are now old hat) controlling cholesterol levels in millions of people. So far we have no means of staving off the effect of ever shortening telomeres on cellular regeneration, but great strides are being made in research aimed at modifying telomerase to slow the loss of telomeres. There is no cure for dementia brought on by plaque formation although some interesting discoveries have been made and there may be some things you can do right now that will give some significant protection (we discuss these later). Each element in Ben Anderson’s anti-aging regimen is based on the observations of real science with respect to the problems for science to overcome.

There are many urban legends about long lived people but you did not comment on those. Why?

I did not comment because they are not important. Actually they were in early drafts of The Black Silent but since they weren’t true, merely explaining that as part of the story seemed boring to the editors, so we cut it. Herein we will comment on anti-ageing formulas that didn’t pan out. There have been various groups in Russia and South America thought to be long lived. Research indicates that these are stories fostered by the locals and that attempts to verify longevity claims have fallen flat. Forget the yogurt eating Cossacks who munch down bulgar wheat, live by regular schedules, and take naps. They live about as long as the rest of us. Please note that we are not saying that people who watch their diet, exercise and live a stress free existence do not stay healthy for a longer period into old age. The point of our discussion is to examine medical intervention or life style changes that may both significantly prolong healthy life and increase the life span. The longest living human was a French woman as accurately described in The Black Silent. We have all heard the stereotypical notions of French living. The Paleolithic diet approximating victuals from the cave-man era is supposed to add years to your life. Forget it. It doesn’t seem to make significant differences in longevity. Once again we are not talking about how healthy or active you are up until the point you pass on. These diets may increase activity levels or general health. They have not proven effective for significantly prolonging the last gasp. Diets haven’t created a sensation among statisticians measuring mortality rates. Certain diets may lower the risk of certain diseases but once again we aren’t here talking about living disease free we are talking about living longer and remaining healthy through the extended years. There are things that one can do to assist in maintaining health, that include diet but no particular diet has caused the life insurance companies to re-think their actuarial tables and for good reason. Now some will say that if hunger (low caloric intake) works on mice maybe it will work on people. There has been no test on people yet but it does work on mice, rats, worms, flies and yeast cells. Perhaps the primate studies will scare us all into thinking we’ll spend our lives on something like weight watchers plus. It is possible that low caloric diets in humans will achieve the same results on people that they achieve on mice. However, it’s doubtful they’ll put you in a cage and control what you eat and it’s doubtful that most of us will shove away from the table half way through. Probably we will find a way to duplicate the affect of a reduced calorie with medication. A final myth I would like to comment on is that taking growth hormone will promote longevity. Muscle tone can be markedly increased on a temporary basis. You can die with a little better looking body. Exercise does about the same and promotes health. In fact when they suppress growth hormones in mice from birth they live a lot longer just like the low calorie mice.

The Black Silent claims that there is enough methane on the sea bottom to provide a source of energy that would last at least for the next 2000 years, is this true?

It is conservatively estimated that there is enough methane at the bottom of the sea to provide three times as much energy as all of the known reserves of coal, oil, and gas in the earth. Research monies are now being spent to learn how to safely and effectively mine it for general use.

The Black Silent explores the good and bad potential of methane gas. Can you talk about both possibilities?

As to the good, some scientists believe there is more methane under the ocean than all the oil, gas, and coal put together. It has been guesstimated that it would solve the energy needs of our planet for 2000 years. In fact, one Japanese group exploring methane recovery feasibility made the comment in the press. If we could effectively mine the methane it would solve the energy crisis as we know it today. It burns much more cleanly than so-called fossil fuels. Emissions would be greatly limited if for example we used methane to run boilers to make steam, to run a turbine, to manufacture electricity. The threat of undersea methane is that it is volatile and in the words of one scientist the methane cycle is not particularly stable. One big burp and we have a major problem. Robert Kunzig writing for Discover magazine said: “Many of these tiny creatures make so much methane gas that if even a small proportion of it is released, we might be overwhelmed by huge tsunamis, runaway global warming, and extinctions.” DISCOVER Vol. 25 No. 03 | March 2004 | Environment. The popular literature and the scientific literature seem to agree, using their respective languages that the sea floor builds enormous amounts of methane over time and that it doesn’t take much in the way of slight warming or ordinary landslides to raise the potential of releasing “catastrophic burps.” At various times in the earths past methane has probably erupted causing mass extinctions of many life forms on the planet. It is fairly well settled that a 4- to 5-degree temperature increase in ocean water near the bottom could result in the release of half the methane on the sea floor. This would create a green house gas problem of titanic proportions and massive climate change would result. We all know that ocean temperatures change as currents shift. Although a 5-degree temperature change is large there may be mechanisms that could affect that result. Chain reactions are possible. For example underwater volcanic activity could bring about localized temperature change that could result in methane release. Once released, methane is a very effective greenhouse gas and might warm the air and that in turn could warm certain parts of the sea and cause currents to shift. Then more methane is released. Because methane is nearer the surface in the arctic it has been discussed as an area to watch for chain reaction. As one scientist put it, once a chain reaction starts there probably is no stopping it. Scientists have speculated that with a big enough methane burp from the deep sea we might experience an atmospheric conversion that would cause sea level residents to experience oxygen deprivation as if they were living on a sixteen-thousand-foot mountain. It has been postulated that in the far distant past large enough burps might have caused conflagrations that, in effect, set the atmosphere on fire. More obvious methane threats are localized releases from underwater volcanic activity that trigger landslides and cause massive tsunamis. Archaea have turned out to be the invisible elephant in the environmental china shop. Nobody noticed until recently but the ramifications of this mass of life (Archaea equal as much as one third of all life on earth, plant, and animal) are stunning. There is plenty to think about.

You write about Arcs (Archaea), found in the deepest sea bottoms. What are Arcs?

Archaea are fascinating microorganisms. Certain varieties manufacture methane; they are thought by some to live over a million years (i.e., ages measured in geologic time); and they are so energy-efficient they were analogized by one knowledgeable scientist as being like a human who could live one year on a slice of pizza. When archaea produce energy, a waste product is methane and their abundance is responsible for the extensive deposits of methane currently found at great depth in the ocean sediments.

Why aren’t methane gas and its implications better known?

We are the fast-food generation. If it isn’t going to solve the problem next year or the year after most of us lose interest. Congress has appropriated funds to explore methane use. Once it becomes feasible to pull the stuff up from the sea we will hear more about it. Most of the methane on the sea bottom is deep in the ocean sediments or tied up in “methane hydrate” (ice that burns). Some of the challenges to mining it result from its tendency to dissipate in sea water or in the presence of oxygen. Scientist are looking at ways to effectively mine it.

Congress has now appropriated millions of dollars to study the feasibility of this technology concerning methane recovery. How close are we to being able to use it?

No one knows. Ben Anderson, my fictional character, and his many colleagues had discovered a way to bring it up. He was ahead of the rest of us.

How much methane is available in the United States? Or are we going to be stuck relying on another country if this energy is adopted, the way we are with oil in the Middle East?

Vast quantities are located off our coasts. Enough, that if estimates are correct, and if it could be recovered, it would last us a very long time. Probably well in excess of 1000 years.

If methane gas has potential dangers for the planet, how are we going to be able to organize a way of safeguarding it and keeping it out of the hands of terrorists?

One scientist told the author that to set off a methane chain reaction by human means (as opposed to volcanic or other natural means) it would require detonating a nuclear bomb in exactly the right spot in a deep-sea trench. Other scientists were more skeptical that this could be done at all. Furthermore, the terrorist might have trouble controlling the ultimate result (although, admittedly, some terrorists aren’t so much bothered by the fact that they can’t control a disaster; and the threat of such an attack might be more valuable than the attack itself). We believe the bottom line today is that it would be a very complex undertaking for a terrorist; probably wouldn’t work anyway; and there would be a whole lot of other more certain methods of wreaking havoc within a terrorist’s means. Probably the greatest threat to our planet from deep sea methane is from natural methane release. There are a number of possible mechanisms. To control the risk long term we might control plankton levels in the sea, in turn controlling CO2 levels, and in turn keeping greenhouse gases under control to stop any methane chain reaction that might result from warming oceans. In fact scientists have already experimented with fertilizing the open sea to stimulate plankton production. So the idea of fertilizing the sea to control green house gases, and in turn to influence atmospheric temperatures, is not an idea without supporters.

Will methane gas pollute our environment the way our oil-based energy does?

Methane burns much cleaner. It does not burn completely clean but it is so clean that it doesn’t pose the same risk of filling the atmosphere with so-called greenhouse gases. The writers of this website are not claiming that the earth today is in fact warming from greenhouse gases. We are saying that anyone who thinks greenhouse gases don’t pose an eventual problem at least theoretically is a lunatic (seriously misled). We cannot operate as many current-technology combustion motors as we want forever with absolute impunity. There is not, in our view, proof that we have already begun a process of global warming. We believe the jury is still out on that one. We agree with Ben Anderson, who believes that there is a problem buried in there someplace if we emit enough CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Of course if half the methane on the planet were released from beneath the sea, the problem would exceed anything we remotely imagine when we worry about greenhouse gases.

Your book is set in the San Juan Islands. Are there methane hydrate or gas deposits around the islands? Why did you select the San Juan Islands as a setting?

It is doubtful there are methane gas sites in the San Juans of any great magnitude. The water isn’t deep enough, given the temperature pressure gradient. However there are massive deposits of methane along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Many places in the sea have not been explored and there probably is not sufficient data regarding what is down in the deepest parts of the channels in the Inside Passage, which includes the San Juan Archipelago of Washington State. Generally, though, the Arcs are down in “the black silent,” where there is no oxygen. It’s black, deep, and cold. The author chose the San Juans not because Arcs are found there, but because they are one of the more beautiful island chains in temperate climates, and he personally loves them. There is in fact a UW marine lab there, so a private foundation lab is not out of the question. When you feel passionate about a place, and you’re a writer, you should write about it. Unless of course you want to keep it all to yourself.


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