Nullifying Nature with CRISPR Changes? A Review of Science Documentary ‘Human Nature’

by Rena Lenchitz (’23)

Since the film’s release alone, we have been absorbed in a whirlwind of scientific and medical achievements. Scientists are tirelessly working to develop technology that continues to provide us with advancements and adaptations like never before.

Adam Bolt’s documentary, Human Nature, reminds us that as humans, we have been genetically modifying organisms for quite some time; the first to do so were farmers back in the Agricultural Revolution. While the film predominantly focuses on CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology used in gene therapy, the exploration of moral and ethical implications are masterfully interwoven throughout.

Given the more technical and perhaps daunting nature of medical technology and research, (although for us MedSci students, it’s a piece of cake, right? 😉 ) the film provides a clear roadmap for any and all viewers. The piece highlights different aspects of CRISPR development and ideation, dividing the documentary into chapters.

As the title states, much of the film’s subject matter revolves around the ethical contentions about “playing god” in a world where human autonomy is so highly revered. The film asks the audience to consider, “is there a line that must be drawn?” The answer would be a resounding yes, but where that demarcation occurs is the subsequent and ultimate question.

I won’t divulge all the wonderful details and nuances of the film; (particularly the fascinating science behind it) however, I will stress that much of it is focused on the most important player when it comes to gene therapy: humans. Viewers meet a young boy who suffers from sickle cell anemia, who, despite his afflicted illness, wouldn’t trade it for the world. The film even examines dystopian and science fiction literature, such as the influential and even mortifying parallels of current science to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Human Nature even walks viewers through the longstanding history of genetic alterations, exposing audiences to the harsh reality that previous attempts were an egregious abuse of power and authority (e.g. eugenics programs in WWII Nazi Germany).

Much of the film I spent contemplating the ramifications of our actions; the topics of the film are a fairly tough pill to swallow, but never before have the challenges and obstacles of science stopped us from working towards a better, brighter, and perhaps healthier future. We stand at a crossroads when it comes to CRISPR; yet whatever path we choose, we must tread carefully and lightly, letting science and evidence guide us.

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