If the truth is out there in this year’s reboot of “The X-Files,” microbiologist Anne Simon helped put it there.
Simon, a researcher at the University of Maryland at College Park, has been a science adviser to “X-Files” creator Chris Carter since the end of the original show’s first season in 1994. Carter was a family friend, and Simon was so taken by the show’s premiere that she volunteered her scientific services.
She loved seeing the interplay between FBI Agent Fox Mulder, who’s a true believer in UFOs, and Agent Dana Scully, who starts out as a thoroughly skeptical scientist. “How often are scientists portrayed as real people?” she told GeekWire. “Back then, never.”
The first show she consulted on, “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” featured a mysterious character with green blood, as well as a flask containing weird bacteria. Simon came up with a way to tell that the bacteria were of extraterrestrial origin: When the microbes’ DNA was sequenced, the genome was found to contain a molecular base pair not seen on Earth.
The crucial “X-Files” clue was found by a fictional microbiologist named Anne Carpenter, who was modeled after Simon. “I saw myself as being that character,” Simon said, “But then Chris killed off Anne Carpenter and her whole family.”
Fortunately, Simon was still around when it came time for Carter to reopen “The X-Files” for the Fox network. She had nothing to do with the first episode of the six-show set, airing on Sunday. For her, that may be a good thing, because the opener is getting less-than-stellar reviews.
In contrast, she played a big part in working out the plot twists for the final episode for the reboot. The contribution is so big that she and a fellow adviser (Margaret Fearon, a Canadian virologist who also has an “X-Files” character named after her) are getting story credit.
“It’s mind-blowing,” she said. “I hope people appreciate it.”
Although she’s adamant about not giving away the plot, the fact that two virus experts are being credited should tell you something. And Carter himself has said the revolutionary gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 will come into play.
Simon says she gets how Hollywood science is supposed to work. “You’re not there to tell the writer, ‘Chris, you can’t have a Flukeman that’s half-man, half-worm,'” she said. “But you want to come up with something reasonable.”
At the same time, Simon is careful not to turn certain technologies to evil purposes. She doesn’t want to feed the unjustified paranoia that’s out there already on topics such as childhood vaccinations and genetically modified foods. “That’s why we don’t use GMOs on ‘The X-Files,'” she said.
In 2001, as the original show was going into its final season, Simon parlayed her experience as a science adviser into a book titled “The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites and Mutants.” Even Simon marvels at how many discoveries have been made since then, but don’t expect the revived “X-Files” to be stuck in the science of the 1990s.
“We know a great deal more than we did then,” she said. “So Scully of course has kept up with all of this.”
And if Simon has anything to do with it, “X-Files” fans will be keeping up as well.