Robert Weinberg and Lois Gresh. The Science of Superheroes (Hoboken, New Jersey: J. Wiley, 2002), pp. 29-32.
The GFP Hulk
Dr. Bruce Banner was a typical geeky nuclear scientist of the early 1960s. He's the guy who always had sand kicked in his face in those Charles Atlas ads. Though Bruce was the valedictorian of his high school and college graduating classes, he never could get a date because he was a wimp. It's the same old story of the smart guy with glasses losing out to the no-brains but all-brawn football hero. Bruce was a man born out of time. If he'd only waited to grow up in the 1 990s, he could have had it all as a super hacker or web designer. But Bruce couldn't predict the fliture and the eventual triumph of the slide-rule set, so he took action-dangerous, life-threatening action that changed him from a mere 128-pound weakling to a massive green monster known as the GFP Hulk.
Instead of majoring in nuclear engineering and gamma ray bombs in college, our Bruce Banner studied chemistry and biology. Bruce knew that high-level radiation destroyed cells and didn't mutate anything. He had no desire to shorten his lifespan to a few days. So Bruce studied the inside of the human body instead of the inside of atoms.
In the course of his work, Bruce examined the adrenal glands, a pair of glands located above the kidneys that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. These glands are only an inch or two long and weigh a fraction of an ounce, yet they produce over three dozen different hormones. The adrenal glands are controlled by the pituitary glands and have important effects on a person's physical development and growth.
The outer section of the adrenal glands secretes hormones that control body shape, hair growth, and the way food is used in the body. These hormones are known as steroids. The inner sections of the adrenal glands produce chemicals that react to fear and anger.
Investigating flirther, Bruce learned that steroids could be produced artificially. Anabolic steroids are artificial versions of testosterone, one of the most important steroids. Mong with helping develop male sexual traits, anabolic steroids cause muscles to grow. These artificial steroids were a favorite among body builders for developing bigger muscles until theywere removed from the marketplace in the 1980s and made available only by prescription.
In true comic book hero fashion, Bruce Banner devoted himself to developing a super version of anabolic steroids. When taken, these pills caused huge muscle growth in his body, easily pumping up Bruce from a 128-pound weakling to a 940-pound, seven-foot-tall behemoth described by women on campus as "an incredible Hulk!"
Bruce, as is too often the case of scientists in comics, acted a liffle too hastily in testing his new pills. He didn't pay enough attention to the side effects of steroids. Among the many dangers of using steroids was an irreversible loss of scalp hair. Thus the Hulk was completely bald. Worse, anabolic steroids interfered with the normal production of testosterone in the human body, which lowered Bruce's sex drive and reproductive drive. While Bruce might have been idolized by many of the girls on campus, he felt more impotent than incredible.
Yet, loss of his sex drive wasn't the worst of Bruce's problems. Anabolic steroids affected the limbic system. That's the part of the brain that influences moods and is involved in learning and memory. Steroids led to major mood swings in Bruce, including feelings of rage and depression. Aggressive behavior was another side effect of the steroids. The Hulk soon became known as much for his titanic rages as for his titanic muscles.
It was perhaps in one of those mindless rages that Bruce performed one more drastic experiment on his ravaged body--an act that would forever mark him as "this man, this monster" and would cause him to be dubbed "the Green Goliath" of the comic book world.
Bruce went to see a lecture by Eduardo Kac, an assistant professor of art and technology at the School of the Art Institute of Technology. Kac discussed his controversial transgenic art and, in particular, his most controversial creation, Alba, the GFP (green fluorescent protein) bunny.
Alba is real, and was created by French genetic researchers through zygote microinjection. They removed fluorescent protein from a species of jellyfish, modified the gene so that it glowed more brightly, and then inserted the gene (called EGFG, the enhanced green fluorescent gene) into a fertilized rabbit egg cell that grew into Alba. The green gene was present in every cell of Alba's body. When Alba rested beneath a black light, the rabbit glowed green.
The green gene did have other important uses. It was used to code specific genes or proteins. When the protein was active, the fluorescence could be detected under a black light. In reality, scientists have used this tracing ability to observe anti-cancer genes by black light. In the fliture, doctors hope to use the green gene method to help locate cancer cells in humans.
In the comic, Banner was so impressed with Kac's work that he decided to see if he could duplicate the GFP process with a human being. With his judgment clouded by high steroid use, Bruce decided to use himself as the first test subject. Needless to say, the GEP gene reacted with the synthetic steroids in Banner's system with dire results. The results were predictable. Whenever Banner got angry or went into a rage, the artificial steroids changed him from an ordinary man into the gigantic, dull-witted Hulk, and the steroids activated the GFP gene in Banner's body, causing his skin to glow green.
Since his graduation from college, Bruce Banner, one of the great geniuses of the twentieth century, devoted his life to fighting drug and substance abuse. In his human persona, he was at the forefront of developing new medications that would hopefully help people reah.ze the adverse consequences of their actions. In his transformed state as the GFP Hulk, he hunted and smashed drug lords, crime syndicates, and people who were cruel to animals.
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