Free virtual viewing of the film ‘Human Nature’
Woods Hole diversity group offers film on gene technology CRISPR for Black History Month
What does our genetic code say about our humanity? How will our newly discovered ability to change it affect future generations? And, who will have access to this and other astounding medical technologies?
Those questions are at the center of “Human Nature,” a 2019 documentary available online Feb. 10 through 13 as part of the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee’s celebration of Black History Month. The film, shown in conjunction with the Woods Hole Film Festival, will be available free via this link from 8 a.m. Thursday through 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
“Human Nature” focuses on the breakthrough called CRISPR, the gene-editing technology that allows scientists to remove one gene from DNA and replace it with another one. The film was produced by The Wonder Collaborative with the cooperation of Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna who won the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the breakthrough. It explains the science of CRISPR and shows how it could work for good, say, in the removal of a life-threatening gene. But, it also raises questions about the ethics of other uses, such as editing the genes of embryos, as one Chinese scientist claims to have done.
“Human Nature” is a provocative exploration of CRISPR’s far-reaching implications, through the eyes of the scientists who discovered it, the families it’s affecting, and the bioengineers who are testing its limits. How will this new power change our relationship with nature? What will it mean for human evolution? To begin to answer these questions we must look back billions of years and peer into an uncertain future.
The film fits with the Woods Hole committee’s choice of Black Health and Wellness for this year’s Black History Month theme because it puts those questions in the context of sickle cell disease, said Meghan Hanawalt, a member of the committee. Sickle cell is an inherited red blood cell disorder that makes it hard for the cells to carry oxygen through the body, shortening the life of patients. Sickle cell tends to affect those whose ancestors came from areas of the world where malaria exists and, in the United States, is most common among African Americans. Clinical trials are now underway for sickle cell gene therapies.
Yet, in one of the film’s most affecting scenes, David Sanchez, a young sickle cell patient, describes what the disease has taught him, and how he’s not sure whether he would be the same person without the life-threatening gene.
The film also raises the question of access to medical breakthroughs that, at first, may only be available to the wealthy or in wealthy countries.
“One of the things, if anything, that the pandemic has been good for is shining a light on how decisions are made about who has access to what and when,” said Judith Laster, founder and executive director of the festival, which focuses on science-themed films.
“Then, when advances are happening, how do you communicate that to the community at large, but also specifically to people who may be struggling for just access to basic medical care, let alone advances in medical care?”
The film was selected to stimulate a community discussion around those issues, she said.