SXSW Film Review: Human Nature (USA, 2019) describes powerful science & possibilities from tomorrow

At SXSW 2017, American biochemist, Jennifer Doudna was telling everybody about CRISPR. Allow me one last Human Nature reference… Doudna was telling the last ones to know about a new technology that has the potential to alter genes. Human Nature is a documentary that takes a deep dive into this fascinating scientific world, and chronicles both its incredible and frightening possibilities.

Director, Adam Bolt saw Doudna’s speech in 2017 and got excited. This enthusiasm is spreading with some people saying that the discovery of CRISPR (AKA Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is the most important technological advancement of our times. This is because it’s a programmatic protein that can find and cut DNA. The possibilities to reshape the biosphere include but are not limited to: curing genetic diseases, treating cancers and dealing with aspects of climate change. Gene drives could also be performed so that certain traits appear in entire populations (for example: mosquitos bred without pathogens to stop the spread of disease).

The breakthroughs and discoveries here can result in hopeful possibilities and scientific applications. But there are also ethical concerns and implications with performing this ground-breaking work. The scientific community consider that embryos up to 14 days old can be used; but it doesn’t take much brain-power to see how this stuff could fall into the wrong hands and drive dystopian nightmares.

Bolt along with co-writer, Regina Sobel, offer up a lot of information and food for thought in this film. They interview the scientists and bioethicists who pioneered these techniques. Because the latter are such authorities on the subject, some of what they describe may go over the audience’s heads. This is especially the case when they discuss how they made this discovery by studying how bacteria fight infection. They do break things down into smaller pieces but at the end of the day, this is highly complex material. The ultimate message here is that with great power can come peril.

Human Nature is an exciting look into the future. This documentary is an important one because it informs people about this emerging work. The majority of us will probably never understand genetic engineering but you can appreciate how we all may benefit from it. Watch it now and thank these boffins in time.


Human Nature is playing as part of the SXSW Film Festival, which runs from 8th to 16th March, with screenings today and on the 12th and 14th. For more information and tickets head HERE.

Natalie Salvo

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