“Human Nature” is a documentary created by Emmy award-winning producer Adam Bolt with the help of NC State professors that explains what CRISPR is and the impact it could have on society.
CRISPR is a gene-editing tool that allows humans to modify the genetic code of organisms. With this technology, it is possible to cure diseases, create new foods or redefine human life. How can such a thing be possible? Can we as humans be trusted with this technology? These are the questions the documentary answers.
Rodolphe Barrangou, assistant professor of food science at NC State and Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in probiotics research* and an active participant in the creation of the documentary, spoke about the project over email.
“In my opinion, the documentary captures the high potential of genome editing for the benefits of humankind, and also brings up critical questions about the ethical issues that must be assessed, and the importance to capture the many voices of all involved and impacted,” Barrangou said.
Barrangou was one of the first people from NC State to be part of the filming process and is considered the driving force behind getting NC State in the documentary. He worked with the film crew to help select the people to feature and the early design of the story.
“We spent 11 days on campus and in RTP to feature work underway at NC State in CALS and CVM and also at Syngenta,” Barrangou said in the email.
Another example of a voice that can be found in the documentary is that of Jorge Piedrahita, a professor and the director of the Comparative Medicine Institute at NC State. His lab created genetically modified pigs for biomedical research, specifically to carry organs for human use. Piedrahita spoke about the fun experience of working with a professional film crew and how important he believed the CRISPR technology is.
“You need to be aware of it because the more you understand it, the more you understand the benefits, the more you understand the risks," Piedrahita said. "You start to understand that the benefits vastly outweigh the risks.”
One of the topics Piedrahita discussed was the “democratization of the technology” and the regulations that would follow it. This would ensure that it wouldn’t just be billion-dollar biotech companies with state-of-the-art labs working with CRISPR. The technology would be available to governments and labs worldwide.
CRISPR lies within an ethical gray area, and a large part of the documentary looks objectively at the good and the bad the technology can do. In the documentary trailer, there is a video of Vladimir Putin describing how the technology could be used to create soldiers that would fight without fear or pain. Then, within the same minute, it shows a parent saying, “Anything that will stop my child from suffering, I’m for.”
Piedrahita spoke about the growing importance of CRISPR and its possible impact.
“I think it will be crazy for someone not to understand CRISPR, because it will be such a big part of our lives, every single facet of our lives, in the next ten years,” Piedrahita said.
From the food people eat, to the way disease is treated, to even the future generations of people, CRISPR will impact everything, which is what makes “Human Nature” so impactful. The film premiered at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, and its general release will be on Nov. 7.
* Editor's Note, Oct. 8, 2019: [and Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in probiotics research] was rephrased for clarity.