About the Science: The Kepos Problem

Warning: Spoilers Ahead for The Kepos Problem

Don’t read this until you’ve read the book! You’ve been warned. Grab a copy here.

Although The Kepos Problem is science fiction, there’s a bit of real biology referenced in this book, and this post is for those interested in separating the fact from fiction, because sometimes what’s real is hard to believe. Don’t worry, I’m not going to explain how jump drives work, or anything crazy like that. Forgive the liberties I’ve taken with the science — it was used frequently as inspiration for some of the ideas in the book, not as an absolute guide.

Music and Birds

As much as I would have loved for my dog to come fully loaded with obedience commands, innate responses to musical commands are not a thing. However, genetic recognition of important sounds is. In birds, they’ve found that recognizing songs from their own species is at least partly genetic. Bird eggs of two similar species were switched in the nest, and researchers found that even though they had been raised by another kind of bird, they still preferred the songs of their genetic species. This is the abstract from the study, which is behind a paywall, and this article discusses the study.

Cowbirds are real and they look nothing like cows. I learned about them from my grandfather. One day he was pretty upset that a cowbird had laid eggs in a birdhouse that some bluebirds were already using.



Phytoremediation is a real process. It’s a fascinating technique that one of my friends told me all about. She completed a research project on the topic in college. Its ancient Greek translates to something like “leaf healing” or “leaf cure.” I learned about it from my friend Maura, and the book explains the concept a bit, so I won’t go into the details here. You can check out the wikipedia page for more information.


Microbial Fuel Cells

MFCs, microbial fuel cells, are a real thing, but I took a lot of liberties, making them bigger and more powerful than they actually are, as far as I can tell. Still, the idea of using soil to generate power seemed pretty cool, and I wanted to include it. You can even order kits to create your own, though I haven’t tried that.


Bel’s Glowing Wounds

Bel’s illness started out based on malaria, but soon deviated from those symptoms. I wanted it to glow, because, hey, it’s science fiction, and wouldn’t a glowing parasitic infection be awesome? The parasites congregated in her lymphatic system, so that’s why the areas with lymph nodes glowed a bit more than others (e.g. armpits and neck).

As I was doing some research, I discovered a story about how some civil war soldiers’ wounds at the Battle of Shiloh had glowed. Apparently, in very cold temperatures, a species of bioluminescent bacteria, P. luminescens can survive in human wounds, and it produces an antibiotic. This meant that the soldiers who developed hypothermia provided a cold enough environment for P. luminescens to survive. Those who developed the “Angel’s Glow” (courtesy of hypothermia) healed better once they returned to a hospital. In the hospital, they would warm up and the heat killed the glowing bacteria, but not before P. luminescens killed some of the other harmful bacteria. I didn’t run with that idea, but if you’re still reading this page, you probably find it as fascinating as I do.


Et Cetera

The “flowering angler worm” is a complete fabrication, or at least whatever influenced that idea was not conscious. I also don’t think pseudophyta is a real word, at least in the scientific world. It’s ancient Greek for “fake leaf,” so I just started using it. Machi are based on tapirs in appearance, but that’s the only intentional connection. Serpentines, Lithia’s original project idea, are made up, as are most of the other specifically named plants and creatures, like Cornula boars and Bolma trees, though many trees have sap that is useful in one way or another, for example, maple tree sap is used to make maple syrup, and rubber tree sap is used to make latex.
Well, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably a total nerd, and I use that only as the highest form of compliment. Thanks for reading!

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