Cut, Paste, Life
The First To Try
Changing an Entire Species
Our Next Generation
If I could change anything about my appearance it would be my teeth and hair. Seeing my daughter with the same curly locks as me (and pulling it off far better I may add) while my son has adopted my natural teeth shape really brings into perspective the power of DNA and how this is passed from generation to generation. But what if I had my teeth fixed to be perfectly in line? What if my hair was altered to not be so curly anymore? While these seem like fantastical pie-in-the-sky ideas, genetic engineering is something that’s largely gone under the radar but is very much a possibility now. Almost science fiction in its concept, this very-real technology brings with it a whole slew of ethical questions. If we could modify our defects and change things – should we? And if we could, who has the power to decide this?
Split across four episodes, each clocking in at around 65 minutes or so, Netflix’s latest foray into the world of non fiction comes in the form of genetic engineering. It’s something that’s been explored in mainstream films like Jurassic Park, but here the lens is very much on the present day reality of this technology. With bio-hackers and big firms like CRISPR changing the game and pushing the boundaries of human evolution, across each of the episodes there’s an underlying message about the future of our species and how much weight we should give to the idea of genetically enhancing ourselves and the world around us.
From eradicating diseases like malaria to changing the entire eco-system of our crops right the way through to big pharmaceutical and military weapon companies getting involved, Unnatural Selection weaves several different case studies across its four episodes while exploring a different side of this fascinating and frightening concept in more detail.
Using a combination of archival footage from various conferences and interviews like Hardtalk, Unnatural Selection combines these segments with real life footage of different people and their experience with genetic engineering. It’s a fascinating topic no doubt and Netflix have done a great job collating the viewpoints from a range of different people. From backyard bio-hackers to genetic scientists, right the way through to slimy, opportunistic businessmen, Unnatural Selection is an example of how to explore this topic in the most unbiased way possible.
There will undoubtedly be some people that don’t take kindly to this and Unnatural Selection is not shy about frowning on religion early on. If you can go in with an open mind and are prepared for the more negative lens associated with world religions here, the series does well to shine a very bright light on this fascinating topic.
Each episode uses a famous quote at the start and each end on a thought provoking note too making it a show easy to binge but ultimately designed to really savour and ponder over. It’s these sort of unbiased documentaries that really help paint Netflix in a favourable light and I hope going forward we get more examples like this. The various different people and their own values are interestingly juxtaposed next to the big questions being asked and seeing both sides of the argument certainly opens up a lot of very real and frightening possibilities for the future.
Unnatural Selection may feel a little overlong at times but it delivers its material with enough scientific and educational facts to make for an enthralling watch at all times. The different case studies all seem a little irrelevant early on but as the series continues, you realize these are all incredibly important to the topic at hand. While I personally found the episode about genetically altering entire species of animals the most interesting, there’s enough variety here to tackle different sides of this broad spectrum of possibility.
At times its hard to believe this isn’t in the realm of science fiction but as Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park put it so eloquently, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Is this really something we should be messing around with? Whether we like it or not, the future is well and truly here but is it a dystopian nightmare or a utopian paradise we’re looking at? Only time will tell.