Exeter, Devon UK • Jun 15, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Science An Evaluation of Unnatural Selection – Cut, Paste, Life

An Evaluation of Unnatural Selection – Cut, Paste, Life

Scarlett Parr-Reid gives her review of the first episode from the Netflix series 'Unnatural Selection'.
5 mins read
Written by

An Evaluation of Unnatural Selection – Cut, Paste, Life

Print Science Editor, Scarlett Parr-Reid gives her review of the first episode from the Netflix series ‘Unnatural Selection’.

An opening question sets the show’s tone: “if you had an idea that was going to outrage society, would you keep it to yourself?” – Charles Darwin. 

Caged dogs bark loudly, evoking fear. Is this implicit bias? A biohacker describes his work to genetically engineer dogs to run faster and smell more. “You’d be surprised what there is on YouTube”, he remarks from the convenience of his shed. Sounds Frankensteinian. I am surprised that anyone can acquire this equipment whether or not they know how to use it; the show invites us all to critically appraise this. 

A biohacker describes his work to genetically engineer dogs to run faster and smell more. “You’d be surprised what there is on YouTube”, he remarks from the convenience of his shed. Sounds Frankensteinian.

The scene cuts to Dr. Jennifer Doudna, founder of CRISPR – a protein that originates in bacteria which can delete or insert genes at anywhere in an organism’s genetic makeup. CRISPR has made headlines promising to miraculously recover conditions from blindness (as celebrated in the show) to muscular dystrophy. But editing genetic mistakes sounds as scary as it does promising. After all, Chinese CRISPR scientist He Jiankui was sentenced to three years in prison for genetically engineering babies without consent. This is an example of using CRISPR for illegal medical practice, which the documentary neglects to mention. But, later in the episode evolutionary engineer Kevin Esvelt states that “evolution does not care about suffering”, only improvement. He asks a pertinent question: “to what extent should we defy evolution in service to our morality?”. This documentary is praiseworthy for asking many questions rather than seeking only to answer them.

Developmental Biologist, Professor Juan Izpisua Belmonte, cautiously asks if it is a good idea to enhance our intellectual and physical abilities and create new functions. These are unchartered waters. Conversely, biophysicist Josiah Zayner asks how genetic engineering could be democratised. He goes on to say, “should we not teach people something because they could use the same knowledge to do something bad?”. Nevertheless, I am left wondering whether the science communication is overshadowed by a commentary on the context within which the science fits. A redeeming quality is that we are shown the perspectives of both the public and scientists.

Developmental Biologist, Professor Juan Izpisua Belmonte, cautiously asks if it is a good idea to enhance our intellectual and physical abilities and create new functions. These are unchartered waters.

“People are afraid of change”, he remarks. CRISPR is shot through with controversy; some fear countries or indeed individuals will use genetic engineering to gain military or economic advantage. Genetic engineering can affect animals, food, bioweapons and even pharmaceuticals, so requires careful regulation. This show uniquely brings the debate over ethical responsibility in genetics into public discourse.


Link to episode: https://www.netflix.com/watch/80208833?trackId=14170286&tctx=2%2C0%2C4dc4b81d-763c-4c0a-aabf-3ac0c2a78d38-170627943%2C5809f600-7e28-4ead-b22e-53c33c5ceae2_5376270X3XX1581080911984%2C5809f600-7e28-4ead-b22e-53c33c5ceae2_ROOT

You may also like

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign Up for Our Newsletter