Chapter 23: The Killer Punch (part excerpt only)
In the Australian summer of 1998, Ted Steele and Bob Blanden were feeling they just may have pulled it off with Lamarck’s Signature. Twenty years earlier on that plane trip to Europe Ted Steele had known that his idea was a turning point. ‘You know,’ he said to Blanden, ‘when you’ve had a good idea. You just know it instantly. Most people never have one in a complete lifetime; I’ve been lucky. And that’s the way it’s turning out.’
While it had set the scientific cat amongst the pigeons, the book had received wide media coverage and was selling well. A television debate on the ABC’s Lateline had drummed up broad interest and, following the airing of the program, filmmaker David Noakes had called Steele to suggest he make a documentary. Unbeknown to Steele, another filmmaker, an expatriate Frenchman by the name of Lou Petho, called Bob Blanden with the same suggestion. Both filmmakers were competitors at that point and both wanted to do something on Lamarck’s Signature. After careful consideration, Steele and Blanden decided on the very passionate Lou Petho without realising that Petho also knew David Noakes. Eventually the two filmmakers decided to join forces. Lou Petho started filming immediately and followed Steele during the dramatic journey that was unfolding, capturing on videotape a remarkable story.
Despite the media excitement and the prestige of an imminent documentary, both Blanden and Steele knew that for all its success, Lamarck’s Signature offered only circumstantial evidence that acquired characteristics are passed on to the next generation. They still needed more proof for the killer punch, and the only way to get this was to observe a gene as it made its way across the Weismann Barrier. Notwithstanding the buzz surrounding their book, the scientists knew that they had not yet made this observation.
Yet typically, Steele’s optimism remained undiminished, and in March the following year an American team published a scientific paper on the discovery of a particular enzyme in gene mutation. This was a key piece in the puzzle that would enable Steele and Blanden to identify a genetic signature or tag they could potentially track across the Weismann Barrier. It was time for Steele to visit the American scientists. He was due to conduct a promotional tour for the book in Britain so he decided to add the US to his itinerary. He was determined to find the final piece in the puzzle. At home in Wollongong, he started packing.
The British promotional tour was to be a triumphant return for Steele. He was going back to the nucleus of his despair: the poisonous memory of the intellectual prison of Medawar’s laboratory. Now, almost two decades later, with a new book in hand, the Australian was on his way back to London as the conquering hero. Nothing could stop him now. As he packed for the trip he said to Robyn, ‘The story is coherent. The data is solid. And I am not scared.’ Pausing, he looked up at her, ‘I feel like a mini master of the universe.’
© 2008 – Ross Honeywill. This material is subject to strict copyright protection and no part may be used without express consent of the author/copyright owner