Thursday, October 29, 2009

Please Do Your Research, Movie Peoples

The other day I was watching the movie 'Mission to Mars'. Most people hate the movie for its cheezy plot, over-the-top acting, and just in general a terrible trainwreck. However, what offends me the most is the flat out idiocy presented as 'science' in this movie.

Basic high school facts are completely ignored. Completely. Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of biology will either laugh or cry about the fact that these errors slipped through all the writing staff, the actors, and the directors.

Let's start with the first grand error. The movie explains and shows us some DNA.

Wow. Only, that's not DNA. It's made out of DNA, but that's not the structure of DNA. In fact, that's a chromosome, and it is made out of tightly packed DNA. Think of a chromosome as a box, and DNA is the contents of that box, and you get the general idea (although I'm sure most of my 19 readers are intelligent enough to know what it is).

So, what does the movie think a chromosome is?

Why, it must be these guys! The rungs of the DNA ladder! Of course. Of course this is dead wrong. That's actually a nucleotide. Those make up the structure of DNA. As we said above, a chromosome is made up of DNA and is much larger.

So the organization is, from smallest to largest, nucleotide -> DNA -> chromosome.

What is a bigger box of hilarity is that the movie then makes the claim that just a few of these "chromosomes" are what make us human. The challenge is then to figure out the missing "chromosome pair". Sorry, wrong. A pair of nucleotides a human being does not make.

Plus, we aren't exactly special. We share a lot of DNA (in the form of genes, which are intermediate structures between DNA and chromosomes) with other species, and not just the great apes. Fruit flies are sometimes used for developmental studies as the genes which determines how an embryo grows up are conserved pretty well across all species. Genetic testing can be done on mice for similar reasons. But I digress.

The strangest part is that near the end, it is stated that the Martians, who had 23 chromosomes, donated their chromosomes to Earth and created all life from it. First, we have 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs, but at least they came close this time.

Second, the rest of the animal world, while their DNA and genes may be similar, do not have the same amount of chromosomes. Fruit flies barely break double digits, while some plants (ferns, I think) push 1,000 chromosomes. It's just silly to think that the measly 23 pairs the Martians donated formed the genetics of all life on Earth.

Third, it contradicts what they claim earlier! If we follow the 'science' of the movie, what they are saying is that human DNA consists of 23 nucleotides, and that these 23 nucleotides are present in all life. Pictures of DNA in middle school textbooks show more nucleotides than the paltry 23 claimed in the movie. I can only hope the 23 pairs the movie refers to is the actual real life chromosomes, in which case they contradict their earlier claim that nucleotides are chromosomes. Either way, they're dead wrong.

Sorry for nerding out in this post, but when it is so egregious, the scientist in me bursts a blood vessel. Especially when it is something you could easily check with a simple Google search.

And that's just the biology aspects that they completely fail. I'm not even going to touch all the other goofs present. Bonus points if you can figure them out.

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