Human Nature Parent Guide
A comprehensive look at the power of genetic engineering to change life on earth.
Parent Movie Review
If you, like me, are old enough to remember life before personal computers, tablets, and smartphones, you might find that the pace of technological change sometimes leaves you breathless. If that’s the case, Human Nature, with its discussion of the biological revolution triggered by genetic editing, will blow your mind.
This film is chock full of experts making expansive statements like these:
CRISPR makes engineering humanity feasible.
CRISPR allows precise, targeted changes in any living organism. It’s the power to change the biosphere.
It allows us to change human evolution if we want to.
Technologies aren’t inherently good or evil. They’re a tool. They’re power.
If these assertions pique your curiosity or scare you to death, you will want to watch Human Nature. This documentary provides a detailed discussion of the technicalities involved in CRISPR, which stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. Basically, this refers to a segment of DNA which contains repeated genetic sequences. These sequences are found in bacteria where they are a critical part of their viral defense mechanism. But they can also be used to alter the genetic sequences of any living organism. How this was discovered and then harnessed for genetic manipulation is the subject of the movie
This production does a fine job of explaining the science behind genetic engineering and of exploring the many question that arise when humans obtain the power to basically “play God.” Do we want to address the shortage of organs for transplant by growing human organs in genetically altered pigs? Is it acceptable to produce “designer babies” who have had particular genes selected or rejected by their parents? If we edit out genes for some genetic diseases do we reduce the richness of human experience by denying people the opportunity to see the world with different perspectives? Does genetic editing place us at risk of again embracing eugenic ideologies? Is it unethical to edit the germline, that is, to make genetic edits that will be passed on to future generations? Is it ethical to reverse human aging? Is it ethical to try to recreate extinct animals?
Clearly, this isn’t going to be a popcorn movie for the whole family to watch, but it should be part of every library and is a solid resource for every teacher of biology, philosophy or ethics.
The biggest weakness of this documentary is that it often feels sterile, but that’s less of a problem in a classroom setting than in a theater. It would benefit from expanded stories of people living with genetic disorders, like the sickle cell patient featured in the film. While the scientific information is critical, it’s human nature to want to see complex issues from a personal perspective.Directed by Adam Bolt. Starring David Baltimore, Jill Banfield, Rodolphe Barrangou. Running time: 107 minutes. Theatrical release September 27, 2019. Updated April 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for Human Nature
Rating & Content Info
Why is Human Nature rated Not Rated? Human Nature is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: None noted.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity: Two extremely mild profanities are used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated April 6, 2020
Human Nature Parents' Guide
Do you see genetic engineering as exciting, frightening or both? Do you think its potential benefits outweigh its risks?
National Human Genome Research Institute: What are the Ethical Concerns of Genome Editing?
New York Times: Genetically Modified People Are Walking Among Us
Pennsylvania State University: The Basics of Genetic Engineering
Do you think there is a risk of producing designer babies? Do you think that is a bad thing?
The Guardian: Designer babies: an ethical horror waiting to happen?
Do you think it’s a good idea to grow human organs in genetically altered pigs? Do you think that’s the best way to compensate for a shortage or donor organs?
The Atlantic: Genetically Engineering Pigs to Grow Organs for People
Do you think it’s ethical to edit the human germline – to make changes that are passed on to future generations?
National Geographic Australia: Pro and Con: Should Gene Editing Be Performed on Human Embryos?
Scientific American: Human Gene Editing: Great Power, Great Responsibility
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For a readable discussion of the potential risks and benefits of tampering with the genome, try Jamie Metzl’s Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity.
What if scientists could bring back animals from extinction? In Michael Crichton’s hit novel, Jurassic Park, dinosaurs are brought to life from fossil DNA and put in an amusement park.
The classic dystopic novel about genetic engineering in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Published in 1932, this book tells the story of designer children, set for life in a hierarchical, rigidly structured society.
If you want a novel about the quandaries of genetic engineering told with literary flair, check out Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
Teens will enjoy James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. Featuring young people with wings, which resulted from sinister experiments, the novels are fast-moving adventure tales.
Related home video titles:
Five Feet Apart is the story of two teens with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease. They fall in love but because of the danger of bacterial infection, are unable to get closer than five feet. A genetic disorder complicates another adolescent relationship in Midnight Sun. Parents vow to do whatever it takes to find a cure for their son’s rare genetic disease in Lorenzo’s Oil.
Genetic manipulation gone wrong is the theme of Jurassic Park, a film about scientists manage to use DNA to recreate dinosaurs.
Viral manipulation turns deadly in I Am Legend. In this flick, a viral cancer treatment backfires, turning people into murderous zombies.
Genetic engineering has already arrived in real life. For more about how the science has affected the food you eat, watch Food Inc.