By Jason Thai
Human Nature is a documentary on modern biology science and the progressive humans have achieved to reach where we are now. Taking a focus on the many genetic issues and problems common people suffer on a daily basis, the film looks into the modern science and technology of CRISPR, a microorganism that scientists have been using as a genetic tool to change another organism’s genes. The future of this technology has the potential to allow people to physically change the DNA of a person and Human Nature explores the ethical dilemmas surrounding this tech and its future in shaping the evolution of our species.
Human Nature focuses on CRISPR, microorganisms that are able to take in DNA and either use it, destroy it or replace it. The movie begins by interviewing David, a young boy suffering from a genetic disorder called “sickle cell anemia.” Out of over 25,000 genes, each with many different combinations in each gene, David has a ‘T’ gene, where an ‘A’ should be. As a result of the miscoding in his DNA, some of his blood cells are sickle shaped and cannot take in oxygen, causing him to go for blood transfusions every 4-6 weeks. A CRISPR is able to be programmed with the ability to find his error in DNA and change it, thus fixing David’s sickle cell issue. However, this sparks ethical questions about how far we as a species should take this technology. For example, with this new ability, the question of whether or not we should be allowed to use this on our future children and alter their DNA to change traits like height, intelligence, and other physical features leaps to the forefront of conversations. Are we playing God? Or are we, in fact, simply doing what’s best for our children.
What’s more, in China, they have already moved forward in this technology, coining the term “Designer Babies.” Beginning in 2018, scientists have already designed a genetically engineered child that will not have its parents’ recessive diseases. While this sounds great and has a lot of positives, the cost of these advancements could lead to a divide between people will can afford it, and those that will not. Because of the high cost to access this technology, currently only wealthy people are able to have children that are objectively more intelligent, healthy, taller, stronger, and live longer than the poor who are unable to access these means.
Personally, I really enjoyed this movie as it takes a look into the positives of having this technology. As well as looking into the ethically dilemmas and where we should draw the line using CRISPR. The film becomes particularly interesting when they discuss the fact that what used to be considered Sci-Fi is now looking to be reality. Taking this technology to the extreme humans could potently reverse or stop aging, give people gills, see smells, not feel pain, or need less sleep to function. The ability to not feel pain and need less sleep are both mutations in DNA that exist now, and are only one sequence in a gene that is different from most people.
The film then ponders which jobs have standards of genes that you must have to obtain them (The example that they use in the film is that air traffic controllers need to be able to sleep for a mere 4 hours in order to be fully functional). This also begs the question as to what humanity will look like and how common gene edited people will be in only 1 or 2 generations from now.
Overall, Human Nature is a great documentary that takes an interesting look into the power of CRISPR technology, and the ethics surrounding it.
For full audio of our interview with director Adam Bolt, click here.
Human Nature is now playing at the Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto, ON and in select theatres across Canada.