This is the world we now live in. CRISPR, a new revolutionary gene-editing tool so simple, precise, and inexpensive that experts are calling it the most positively life-changing and potentially dangerous discovery in the history of mankind. The implications are endless - eradicating disease, designing human beings, wiping out entire species or even creating new ones.
Given the power of these technologies, should they be regulated or democratized? And who will make these decisions? The four-episode series, Unnatural Selection follows character-driven stories from leading scientists to desperate patients to boundary-pushing biohackers as they each embark on a quest to reach their goals while confronting moral, societal, and technological challenges unlike any humanity has ever faced before.
You have to take risks. That will be disappointments and failures and disasters as a result of taking these risks. This task was acquainted to you, and if you do not find a way, red moments are born, great opportunity and that's what you have here in the end. That's all we really are. I just stories. Stories are what our lives are made up of. Stories, how we remember people and stories make us feel a little less alone in the world.
Welcome to the groove podcast. This is Devin Pence
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Dude, I am super stoked and yes, I used the phrase super stoked about this episode. I mean, this kind of pushes all my buttons, man. This is the kind of stuff that I just light up over.
Yeah, so today we have Joe edenger and Leeor Coffman, the co-creators and co-directors of the Netflix series, unnatural selection,
bro. This series blew my mind. This presents an overview of like genetic engineering, you know, I'm way into that for several reasons, particularly the DNA editing technology of CRISPR. This is something I've known about for a couple of years from the perspective of scientists, corporations and biohackers literally working from their home and I mean in some cases in their garage.
Yeah, that's an insane. So Joe [inaudible] is a documentary filmmaker and actor and of course he's one of the co-creators and co-directors of the documentary that we're talking about unnatural selection. Prior to that, he directed the short documentary, my paintbrush bytes released by the Atlantic, Joe co-wrote and produced the feature film Holy ghost people, which premiered at South by Southwest film festival. A few of his acting TV credits include roles on HBO series. The night of effects is American horror story and JJ Abrams. Fox series Alcatraz.
Yeah. We also have Leo Kauffman with him and he's a documentary filmmaker and photographer and he recently created the original a Netflix documentary series on natural selection. The one we're talking about today. He also directed documentary content for publications such as time magazine, the new Yorker, NBC, CNN, NFL network, and many other international publications. Leo started his career in Israel as a documentary film maker, producing and shooting, shooting short and feature length documentaries among them, the award winning destiny Hills produced by a R T. E the leading documentary channel in Europe. He also taught as an adjunct professor at Columbia university school of journalism and the international center of photography in New York.
Man, I feel so small right now.
Right? What did we do? An interview in him, right.
Check out. Joe and Leo are on their website at twist and turn, film's dot com and be sure to check out the show notes from this episode for even more info as well as images from the show. Joe and New York. Welcome to the show. We're really happy to have you.
Thanks for having us. Appreciate it. Thanks for having us. Great to be here guys. Uh, I'm gonna just say this right from the beginning. I'm going to full disclosure. I have a daughter with a genetic disorder, uh, one of the rarest genetic disorders on the planet. She's missing a piece of her 15th maternal chromosome. It affects her UBE three, a gene. Uh, I heard about CRISPR a couple of years ago there, there, that's, that's one of the possible therapies being bandied about us as something that might be a quote unquote cure for someone like my daughter. So when your series came out and when the opportunity, more importantly, when the opportunity for me to talk to you arose, I was kinda jumping up and down and giddy and I was like, Oh yeah, we're going to, we're going to get into this. That's what has gotten me interested in your subject matter.
Uh, the manipulation of DNA, the manipulation of, uh, you know, the very building blocks of, of life, the foundation of life, what we're all here for, you know, what's been manipulated, what hasn't. That's what has gotten me interested in is what makes me think, think about it almost 24 hours a day. I'm interested in what got you thinking about it. So why don't you guys give me a little information as to why, why did Joe and Leo get into this? Sure. Um, so you, you kind of said it, uh, and, and you're opening there. Um, and this is Joe by the way, right? Yeah. So I come from the fiction side. Uh, I
was an actor for a long time and, uh, wrote and produced a scripted projects as well. And, um, uh, around that, around three or four years ago, uh, I was doing some research on a potential Saifai script and was reading different books and different articles and, and looking to, to see what was going on in the and the current world and the current science world. And I was riding the subway here in New York and I'll never forget reading, uh, this article about CRISPR, which I had never heard of before. And, uh, exactly what you said, we can now manipulate the essence of life DNA. And it really just a stop me right there. You know, I, I didn't know that that existed and I certainly was confused why not everyone in the world who was talking about it. And around that time I was, uh, I was also, uh, looking to, uh, transition into docs.
And I have been, um, we were, and I had met and we were out at dinner one night and we were, comes from the documentary world and I was telling them about CRISPR and some of the other things going on in that, in that world. And at first he thought I was talking about the science fiction script. He didn't realize that I was talking about something that actually exists and is ongoing. And when he understood that, he said, I'm not sure this is a scifi film, this is a, this is potentially a documentary. And, uh, I, I agreed and we started down that path and that's what, that's what initially kicked us off probably about three or four years ago.
That's awesome. How about ULI or what got you here? Uh, yeah, I think that the moment that I heard Joe telling me about the technology, uh, in that dinner conversation he mentioned and understanding, uh, all the ramifications that it can have for, uh, us as a society on, on all levels of life, really in terms of health medicine, but also economically and, and ethically. Um, since I make docs, uh, that are usually about political, societal, uh, economical subjects. Um, I was fascinated by it immediately. Uh, and when I understood that there are people that are actually already dealing with this now, I understood immediately and when we were talking about it, that if they're already dealing with it on some capacity, even if it's only in the lab, um, they're already thinking about tomorrow in a way that we're not thinking about. They're already all these ethical conundrums, all these thoughts about how society would rearrange itself.
Um, when a technology like that is part of our lives, they're already thinking about it. They're already dealing with the kind of tomorrow's world that we're not aware of. And, and obviously something like that can be extremely, um, um, uh, disruptive about, I don't mean it necessarily as a bad word. It could be incredibly ugly, great. But it can offer new challenges. And if they're already thinking about it and maybe they're already dealing with it in some kind of way, in some kind of capacity in their lives, uh, we want to know about it because then we can all learn about tomorrow from them
and, and you and you, and you chose the documentary format for this, which, which uh, leads to the, the comment that that truth is essentially stranger than fiction, right? Like you're, you're like, well, we could write a scripted version of this. We could dramatize it, but wait a minute. What's actually happening is more, is more, you know, mind blowing than anything we could probably, right. I mean, in that, in that true, I mean that as I was watching it, that's kind of what I came to. I was like, man, I don't even know that I would, some of this wouldn't even be plausible to me if I saw it in a film. Right,
right. I think that some of it is, is things, it's things that we don't even think about because we're not aware of, of the technology and its implications and people who are dealing with the technology already, they're already thinking for it and understanding what kind of things that's going to cause for better or for worse. So, you know, writing about it, you can have a conversation and write about it. Uh, and, and that, that's fine. But these people are already experiencing within their lives. The, the, not only the thinking, but the struggles and the challenges of maybe bringing this technology to life or, or fearing the, uh, applications of this technology will come to life. So, and, and they're pretty much in the beginning when we were, uh, when we knew about it, you know, it's been four or five years since, uh, CRISPR was discovered, but people were, um, still in the beginning of understanding how to apply things.
Um, and we are still in the beginning and any way that the, it will take time, even though a few applications are coming to life. So if this is the beginning for them and they're just starting these struggles and challenges experiencing it themselves, then if we can, if we can join them in these adventures, then we can, we can experience these adventures firsthand and, and bring it to the viewer firsthand. And you know, storytelling obviously always comes down to, uh, the people, right. And the people in [inaudible] is that the story is about, and one thing that's very interesting about this technology and the people that we started following is that this, there's nothing cut and dry about this. The people that discovered some of these technologies struggle with the ethical side of things. People that are benefiting from these technologies struggle with the ethical side of things. So yeah, that's when we knew, uh, we were on, on something at that
point when, when we, when the people who are out there, you know, even, um, working on a day after day after day and wanting these technologies to be a part of society and wanting people to be healed from them and environments to be healed from them. And, um, but yet still waving a red flag saying, but hold on. We need to be careful and we need to talk about how we're moving forward. Um, there's a lot of story to be told there.
Yeah. And let's, so basically speaking of the story, let's, let's kind of get into it. And as I was kinda going through the series myself, I was so fascinated and by the way, it's so well done. So well put together so much information, how you guys managed to pull all this information together and present it in a way that you, the way you presented it is just, you know, hats off as a filmmaker myself, man, that that was a ton of work. So this is a four episode Dockey series. And the one thing that stood out to me were the show titles. Uh, when there's a series of episodes, show titles often get glossed over. I mean, it's more obvious when we watch a movie because the title is so predominant. But in series work, each episode has a title and a lot of people may not know that. And it's obvious you guys took the time to come up with some really provocative show titles. So I thought it would be cool to sort of frame our conversation around the titles, which will obviously lead us into a little bit about each episode. So the titles are cut, paste life, the first try changing an entire species and our next generation. So can we start with the first title cut, paste life. How'd you guys come up with the title and a little bit about that episode?
Sure. Um, well, you know, some of the scientists when they're asked to explain, um, some of the gene modification techologies and specifically CRISPR, uh, obviously these processes are not simple, uh, that they involve a lot of, uh, knowledge. They involve a lot of definitions. Um, so in order to, uh, bring, bring it to the essence of what a tool like CRISPR can do, uh, they use metaphors and, and the metaphors that they commonly use are metaphors from film editing world or from word processing. So, uh, it's basically the tool can, um, act like molecular scissors. It can come, it can get into the DNA. In a specific point that you can program it to get to, uh, and it can cut a gene out of the DNA. And by that create a gap that, uh, in, in a short, uh, explanation, uh, um, the DNA can restruct itself or repair itself with a new gene that you can try to apply.
So, so in essence, it's basically, um, cutting a gene out of the DNA and allowing it to pace a new gene into the DNA. So it's cut, paste life. Uh, and that obviously that is a, uh, a mindblowing possibility. The fact that we now understand that there are tools that are making it easier and easier for scientists to do that and, and cheaper and more accessible and the range of applications and the range of things that can, we can do with it are, are, are staggering. Um, and, uh, the first episode, first of all, tries to bring, um, uh, to the viewer the knowledge that this is possible. And, and second tries to open up this, the Swindoll of some of the people that are already in many different ways and in many different places and scenarios are trying to utilize, um, this tool and this understanding that we can do that.
Awesome. Joe, did you want to add anything to that or was that a,
I guess just a little more specifically that what episode one really is an introduction to the science and to the characters. So you meet a, you meet quite a few of, of our characters and you understand what they're, how they're applying these technologies, what their goals are, what their challenges are and um, and that sort of shoots you off into the a, the other three episodes. So you have a basic foundation of, of, of what the science is and, and, and how these people, uh, are trying to meet, move forward with it.
Yeah. And I think one of the first things that just absolutely struck me right in the face was, and you know, that doing any spoiler alerts or whatever was, you know, this is being done in, in, in people's garages. And, and, and, and Outback sheds. And it's not like it's just this, you know, this, these looking on YouTube and things like that. So I mean, it's a very episode one is just, you know, everything you described and just kind of like, you know, just kind of smacked you in the face of like, Whoa, this is not going to be, you know, a doc about, you know, some pristine lab in Germany or somewhere or something like that.
Yeah. I'm one of the, uh, one of the things about, uh, these tools is that they're relatively simple to employ. And the scientist's point out to it, now, this is not the, you know, uh, it's not that you just press a button and it works and, uh, it, it, um, it demands learning, uh, demands, uh, putting a lot of time and effort in order to try to make something work. And that's true both to the mainstream scientists, uh, labs and, uh, the people in their garages. But it does bring, um, the, the thought that this is potentially possible that somebody can, can DIY this. So a group, a group of people that call themselves biohackers immediately understood, uh, um, or early on, understood that, that, that this is a possibility in and the show Chronicles
their adventures and trying to apply it for different things that they, uh, want to do with it. Um, and then there's also failures. Uh, it's not that easy, but it also brings up a lot of ethical, uh, debate, uh, about what are they doing and, and should they be doing that. And, and I think the most important thing about, um, the day, uh, scientists that are featured in the show, um, is, is that they bring, um, forward the debate of, of democratizing this, what happens to a society when not only that we have, uh, this powerful tool, uh, but that it's easily accessible. And should we be allowing, uh, people to do that in their garages or, and, and, and, and if we don't, what is the cost of that too? So, so this discussion, uh, comes to life immediately by the people who are working in their garages with them.
Joe, you brought up something I wanted to, I want to kind of go down this path in, in talk a little bit about, because you said something that was very key to me that essentially these are stories. I have a, I have a theory that the entire human story, that the attire cornucopia of, of events is, is a giant art piece. It's, it's back to obviously behind it is science and math. But at the surface of it, the thing that we experience is art. And that's why we have drama. And that's why we have music. And that's why we, uh, you know, that's what we have expression and all of this stuff that we can't necessarily understand. Uh, why, you know, we're always trying to get to the why's of these. And when I saw that guy, again, I'm not trying to give anything away, but I saw the guy standing there, uh, shooting whiskey, making genetic decisions for himself.
I was like, that's a character in a film right there. And this is a story we're telling a story. And Oh by the way, it happens to be a story about the most important thing we'll ever look at the foundation of life. But talk a little bit about that story and what your own, your own journey to get you here. I mean, do you feel like in a certain way, I mean, whether you guys want to accept this or not or, or whether you want to take this mantle on or not. You guys have been the ones to put a light on this that I've never seen and I, and I live in this world and I didn't know you could genetically engineer dogs in a, in a garage and Mississippi. So you, so you guys are kind of like these Torchbearers. Do you think you were destined for this? Do you the, you're part of this story, your part, you, you, you know, how, how do you separate yourself from the story? I know you want to, as a documentarian, Laura, I'm sure you want to stand back and point the camera and let things you know happen, but you're now a part of it as well. So I'd say start with you Joe, because you're the actor or what, what, what are your thoughts on that? Or do you have any, that's a lot. So let me, uh, I'm a lot Joe. It was very well put,
it was a, it's an a nicely put in and I think, let me start with this. I think what was very important for Leo and I from the beginning, and it's the reason we went with a Netflix versus a science network, for example. It's the reason we, um, spent three years of our lives with these people is that we wanted this to be a story. We didn't want this to be a science show. We wanted it to be about people who are doing the science or people who are benefiting from the signs or are people that are struggling with the science. And that was very important to us. And so for example, you, you talk about the biohackers, the DIA, the DIY guys, the science that they're doing is, is this the very beginning for all, for all, everyone, even the mainstream scientists, but, but they're failing. Everybody's failing. There's a lot of failure in science, whether you're in a, a big lab or, or a biohacker.
I don't, I want to, I want to stop. I want to say that. I don't think people realize that. Uh, I see Facebook threads and I see people post stuff all the time and, and, and we could do this, we can do that. We get me, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I don't think people realize that most of the time science scientists are failing. This is the one thing that I've learned, you know, through the journey,
they'll tell you that, that that's what it is, is failure and failure and failure and so, so until it's not, yeah,
yeah, that's right. And they're wrong a lot. You know, that's the other thing is that people that we see, we kind of look to scientists as like sort of the new clergy. Like they, that they have all the, you know, all of the information. And if you sit down with any scientists for 10 minutes, they'll tell you, man, we only know kind of what we know. And there are other doors, we can open a door tomorrow that could just completely demolish everything we think we know. So, you know.
Okay. Yeah, I mean that the, and, and it's a lot of trial and error, right? So you're, you're going down a path to see if that path will lead you somewhere. And if it doesn't, then you go down another path. So a lot to be learned, you know, in the science world for, uh, for our own personal lives. But, um, so, so as important as us getting across the science and, and so that, you know, viewers have a basic understanding of what we're talking about, what was more important or just as important, I should say, is to document these successes and failures and these people going, going through them. And, you know, it's the beginning of a revolution. And we were very fortunate enough to be there with some of these pioneers and, and them allowing us to be in their homes and being in their labs and being in their lives, filming them.
Because this is a moment in time. You're right. And so I guess that gets to your question about, you know, um, the sort of the storytelling and the, the, the humanity behind it. Um, I can get up a little bit into the, uh, the acting side. I mean, I, I've always just been drawn to, to storytelling, um, from an early age, but I wasn't necessarily, um, yeah, I didn't necessarily grow up in an environment that, that going into the entertainment world or any sort of art art world was, was a, uh, there weren't people around me doing that. So I didn't necessarily know that I could do that at a younger age. So for me, it wasn't until I was out in the world and a, and working in corporate America and my, uh, early twenties did, I actually, um, realize I have control of my life.
And, uh, and so I, at that point, uh, film school wasn't necessarily an option. I'd spent my money and probably my parents' money on, on a, an accounting degree. So, uh, aye. The best way I could understand, you know, how to sort of find my way into the storytelling world was as an actor and a, you know, also as a young guy in your 20s. I think most of us also have a lot of [inaudible], a lot of pent up emotions and [inaudible] a lot going on at that, at that age. And so I think acting also gave me, um, a venue, a, an outlet I should say for some of that stuff and, and to work through it and, uh, and at the same time learn, learn a craft. Um, and so that's, that's really, I moved to San Francisco, um, at that point because I knew I wasn't ready for an LA or a New York environment and it was a great, uh, I really appreciate it. My, the, the few years I was in San Francisco because I was able to dive in and do some theater and, and independent films and commercials and, and build a, a little bit of foundation of, of who I was as a, as an actor, but also just who I was as a person. And, and, and kind of my, a fearing out, you know, figuring out myself before diving into a Los Angeles
and somehow all of that unique, uniquely qualified you to team up with Leo and Leo, I love for you to talk about this too. You know, what your journey was that led you to this kind of, uh, gosh, forgive this, forgive this phrase, but the literally seminal moment, um, you know, uh, what, what, tell us a little bit about that.
Um, you know, talking about documentary filmmaking in terms of storytelling, I always see documentaries as, as first and foremost films and, and they have, they, they, they, they, they have to tell a story and, and, and stories. That is what it's all about. When I, I, I started making films in film school. I went to film school, not because I thought, um, uh, I wanted to be a filmmaker that seemed like a dream that I didn't even think is possible. I went to study film because I loved films and I didn't know what I want to do. Uh, but slowly I started making films in film school and I started making fiction films. Uh, and I was writing and I was making films. And, um, it was right about the time when, um, digital cameras were introduced. So the, the ability to do something, uh, more immediate, uh, started to become a possibility.
And after making a few fiction films, uh, and so you, so you're saying you could essentially do it in your garage, right? That's very true. Yeah. That was the start of the day. Cheap access to filmmaking. And it was right around, I dunno, the third or fourth year that I started making films and all of a sudden I understood that there's a possibility that I don't have to write and wait to get some funding. And, and, and, you know, filmmaking is a lot of waiting, a lot of waiting, uh, to, to, to do something and all of a sudden you have this, uh, camera that, okay, it's not the best camera and not the camera that you would shoot a fiction film with, but you still have a camera and you can go out and do something. Uh, and, um, since my films were anyway, uh, based around societal issues.
Um, at that time, this was in Israel. I grew up in Israel. Uh, there was a lot of immigration problems, kind of similar to what's going on here now in the U S uh, and, uh, I was very involved and active about it and I, I brought a camera with me to a family that was under threat of deportation. And I came back that night with, um, two unbelievable scenes, uh, that, you know, if, if I would write them and, and wait for funding, I wouldn't have these scenes for four years, maybe, if at all. And the power of doing that was, was mind blowing to me. And I think that was the night that I understood that I much rather do this. And since then I started, you know, taking my camera every day to different places and, and telling the stories that I want to tell.
And, and in that sense, um, you know, when I w when I make a film, uh, and I really think it doesn't matter if it's a documentary or not. You in, in, in fiction, you right at first with your computer or with a pen and paper, uh, in, in documentaries you have the opportunity to write a little bit with the camera. But every time I, I come with a camera and film a subject and, and film with a person, uh, my thought process is immediately, okay, what, what is the story that I'm filming here? It's not only grabbing a few sentences that are important, uh, it's understanding what is the story of this character. I'm really thinking about him. Like you think about, uh, a protagonist when you're writing a what, what are his goals? What are his challenges? What are his obstacles? And, and, and, and even in the specific, um, scenario that you're in, not only what the film in general is about, but what is this scene about? If I'm filming right now, somebody's, uh, doing something, this is a scene. What, what is the story of the scene? What does the start, middle and end of this scene, uh, and, and, and what is the next scene? Um, so I find documentary filmmaking not different in that sense from fiction filmmaking. Uh, you, it's a process of understanding what is the story that you're trying to tell and how are you going to tell the story?
Well, I love the fact that [inaudible] and maybe, I don't know if you've ever thought of it this way, but the, all of the things that you went through talking about the immigration situation, uh, with your, with your own life, all of that that leads you here, right? Like that's, that's part of your story that led you to this story. Uh, I think that that stuff happens all the time. Um, and that, that kind of leads me to the second part of the story, which, uh, let's talk about episode two first to try, because that's, I mean, that's, that's, you know, that's the tip of the spear, right? Sure.
Yeah, that, so, so episode two, uh, focuses on, uh, the patient's stories, uh, the medical side of, of this technology. Um, so we have three, three patients. Um, two of them have genetic diseases, rare genetic diseases. One is a, um, a young boy who has a, uh, a hereditary blindness disease. And the other is, uh, a disease called SMA, which, um, is a debilitating disease that affects a person's, um, muscles. [inaudible], spinal muscular atrophy is what it stands for. So, so they're both, uh, going through the, the medical system, uh, of, of two new drugs that are just FDA approved, um, gene therapies. While the third a patient is a young man who has HIV and he is actually going outside the medical system and he's working with the biohackers, um, to attempt to find a cure for his HIV. And you can imagine the, the risks and dangers that come with that and also the potential hope. And so that's really the focus of episode two. So the, the title of the episode first to try, because these really are the, the uh, they pioneers on, on the patients side of things.
Yeah. And that's something that a lot of a lot of us, you know, non scientists, if you will, we're always like, well, why can't this stuff move fast or why can't it move faster? And there's just a giant between
doing something on rats or mice or you know, whatever. Versus like when you bring a human into the room and you, you know, have a syringe that basically will, or an Ivy that opens up literally to the, to the life of this human, uh, that's a whole different story. And I think a lot of people just want to skip over all of that, but it's very different on, and it comes across in the show. It's very different when you're sitting in a room and you're watching somebody about to inject themselves with something that, I mean, are they going to turn into the incredible Hulk? Are they going to fall over dead? You know, I mean, what's going to happen here? Um, and it's just very, it's, I don't know, it's just, it's very sobering. Um, those visuals
it would, unless you're shooting whiskey while you're doing it, right? Yeah. Uh, I mean the, the moment that we start bringing these, uh, technologies into application, you know, these technologies might be, uh, might be successful in the Patriot dish or under the microscope, but eventually when you inject it to somebody, uh, yeah, you obviously want, wanted to succeed and succeed in terms of the therapy, but also not cause any harm. Uh, and, and when you bring up plications to medicine, um, there's a lot that, uh, has nothing to do with the gene manipulation itself. I mean, we know from other examples in medicine, uh, transplants are not that simple because a, the body might reject, uh, the Oregon and so forth. So there's, there's challenges with the immune system. There is mechanical challenges in delivering, uh, medication. Uh, so these people who are trying these things for the first time, there's, there's a lot of, um, uncertainty and there's a, there's also a lot of fear.
Uh, and it was an incredible journey to, to be next to these people when, when they first tried it and not everything was successful. And that's also heartbreaking, but, and yet there's so much hope in it. And I think everybody that is, is trying in these first steps is also understanding the simple fact that even if this specific, uh, application right now fails, and a lot of them were talking about it even before they went through it, uh, they're still part of something bigger and it's all part of hope. And, and that's a, that's a powerful thing. And what else comes along with new technologies are price tags and [inaudible]. Generally new technologies are expensive, but as you'll see in episode two, these are really expensive. Um, so one, one um, injection for Jackson, the young boy with the degenerative blindness disease, uh, one injection in each eye, it's $850,000.
And that, um, on one hand, you know, you could say, wow, that, well, this is a rare genetic disease. There aren't a lot of people with this disease. So of course these are going to be expensive, uh, medicines because of the company a wants to profit and keep going with other, with other [inaudible] technologies and other medicines. On the flip side, we're all affected by prices like that in the United States because it affects all of our insurance. And, and it really raises these questions in a, in a way that obviously the, the, the medical industry and the healthcare industry in the U S is, people have been discussing it for quite awhile and we'll continue discussing it. But, but what I think these specific technologies, these gene therapies, what, what they are shining a light on in a way that, that really isn't in any of the other, uh, areas in this, uh, in healthcare is because there'll be one shot. A lot of them will be one shot. These price tags are, are eye opening. And so they, these are new questions. This is a, this is the, you know, there isn't just the ethics of, of do we or don't we inject a gene in someone? There's the ethics of how do we pay for it and who pays for it. And, and, um, and the research that goes into it.
Well, you're also talking about this, you're talking about the possibility of giving somebody one shot and putting an entire part of that industry out of business because suddenly you don't need the orderlies anymore and you don't need the specialists anymore. And yet, you know what I mean? If you, if you, if you cure cancer tomorrow, think about the, I mean, it's a, it's a morbid thought, but think about the financial implications of the medical industry, which spends most of its time dealing with cancer patients,
right? I mean, it could be, it could new technologies that are, uh, uh, so, uh, promising and, and can change, uh, our lives in so many ways, obviously bring up, uh, a lot of challenging debates about how we're going to form the society, uh, or reform the society because of the changes that they introduce. Uh, I, I think that one of the, one of the things that our, um, w w when you, when you hear the price tag, $850,000, I mean, we, we experience so much inequality in the world anyway right now. And there are people who haven't and they're the people who have not seen. And I think that when you hear a price tag that, uh, sounds so, uh, expensive, it brings up a very interesting question because it allows us or, or demands us to think, wait, am I, am I going to be part of this?
K? And you know, uh, maybe in the Western world in the U S and other countries were used to be part of the benefits of technology. And when you start bringing new technologies in and, and they have a different kind of price tag than before, then it, it starts, it demands a question of how are we all gonna be part of it? And then you have to start again about the people who anyway are not part of it. And when you, when these technologies are so potentially life changing and can really, uh, you know, change our DNA and they, they, they have a risk and a danger to create more walls between us, uh, between us people and more inequalities to too. And you have to start thinking about, are we all gonna benefit from this? And, and, and how can we bring everybody in the world, uh, into the benefits of these technologies. And, and in that sense, there is a chance for when, when a new technology, uh, so powerful comes in. Um, there's always, there's, there's this great hope and a chance that if we do it right, we might actually have more equality in the world, but if we do it wrong, then we're just gonna increase inequality to a place where it could be horrifying to live in a place that has so much inequality between people.
Well, I will tell you this guys, one of the, believe it or not, this is gonna. This might blow your minds, but believe it or not, the thing that gave me hope for that was the guys do it and they're doing it in their garage. I mean, listen, I fly all the time. I fly with kids of all, you know, three year olds who live in middle class neighborhoods or maybe even kids who, you know, are in poor neighborhoods and whatever at flying has become very democratized. It's not that hard to do it, but I can imagine that when it was first introduced, someone was asking the question, well, do I, am I ever going to get to fly? The way you, the way we got there was by these Wildcats who basically did what you said they were the first to try. And they, they brought flying from the, you know, from the upper crust, from the, uh, intelligentsia, from the people who, you know, that down to the regular folks who can go on their app and buy it for, you know, you know, a $99 ticket from New York to LA.
Um, it SA it was when I'm watching this, what I see is that happening in the world of genetics that one day you can go to Walgreens and you know, I've gotta change some DNA in here, you know, a hundred years from now. I ain't [inaudible] I just got a DNA issue. I've gotta gotta get this little, this little, uh, you know, uh, pack at, at Walgreens out of tech, a couple of pills that changes my DNA for about four months. I gotta, you know, it's, it's, uh, it's a real hassle. It costs me like 100 bucks a month for this. You know what I mean? I could see a day when that you guys see that. I mean, but you have to fight your way through with a bazooka. And like, I'll get to know. You just have to stand in line.
This is exactly why we thought that the stories that the, uh, DIY garage scientists biohackers would bring into the debate is so important. Uh, and you know, whether they can achieve this things right now remains to be seen. But, uh, and where do they should be allowed or not. There's a lot of sides to this debate. Uh, but the, the, they bring in this question of, you know, if this sounds so good, um, and, and people are going to enjoy these things. Are we sure that everybody's going to enjoy it and, and how do we make sure that everybody's going to enjoy it? And they bring in a certain pessimism that they fear that the corporations and the current system will not allow, uh, all of the people to enjoy it. And what happens when you have such a powerful technology that is in the hands of the few and they can decide tomorrow morning who they want, uh, to allow to enjoy it and who they don't, uh, no matter why, because of money.
Well, because of, yeah, because of, of, of whatever they fancy in that moment. And I think this is a crucial debate point when, when we think about, uh, such life changing technologies, uh, is, is who has the power to decide to use it. And when, and how do regular citizens get a voice in this, uh, and, and, and a lot of their attempts to, to understand the technology and, and to learn how to use it derives from an ideology or also a fear and a concern that, that a lot of people will be left out. And, um, and, and that's a very valid point. And, but it also brings the other side of the debate of some people who are whining, wait. But if everybody does, uh, uh, do these things in their garages, what are the risks, risks for doing these things in their garages? What are the risks of everybody claiming that they can do these things? Um, and, and, and it brings up very, very interesting and very important debate.
Well, I'm a, I'm a big believer in greed and once they find out they can make a lot of money on it, everybody will have access to it. Trust me.
I just want to transition here real quick guys. So I mean it's such an important part. I want to kind of side that for a second because I want to get back to the ethics of it and everything. But everything you were just talking about Lee or kind of drives us into the next, uh, episode, which was, you know, changing an entire species. And, and to me, that's where things begin to get a little dicey. Um, cause you know, in the byline it talks about, you know, the unforeseen ways that things can be modified. And, you know, eliminating a species entirely by accident. I'm thinking you're doing good over here. And then you realize over there in one of the episodes, one of the scientists, I can remember there was a, a, a, they were having a like a board discussion, um, to the community there and I was at Martha's vineyard and what he was saying about helping to want to eliminate, you know, some of the diseases that were kind of running through some of the, some of the insects, the people in the room hearing this from him, the looks on their faces were like, am I hearing this correctly?
Is this real? Is this, you know, fake, can you talk about that? I mean, changing the entire species in that episode.
Sure. So a, a technology that, uh, a scientist who is featured in the show, dr Kevin Esvelt from MIT, uh, is basically sort of, uh, an advancement on the idea of, of CRISPR, which is taking CRISPR that a tool that can allow you to change one gene in one organism. And, and creating a situation where the CRISPR system itself is, uh, um, delivered into the genome and by that passed onto the next generation. So the genetic, uh, alteration happens again and again and again. And you can guarantee that, uh, uh, that the change that you introduced to, uh, an organism carries on to the next generation. And by that you can potentially change an entire species. Uh, and, and this idea, I think that everybody, when they first hear about this idea, uh, it sounds pretty terrifying. And, and I think we live in a world where we understood, uh, after years of the industrial revolution is that there is, there's consequences, uh, to, uh, to playing quote unquote with nature.
On the other hand, uh, and Kevin brings that, uh, to discussion. Uh, we are already in a situation where we did a lot of harm to nature. Uh, and, and our, our situation is not necessarily sustainable. I mean, we don't, and this is a point that many people have opinions about it, and I think it's an important point for people to discuss from every viewpoint. Uh, but some people are saying that, uh, no matter if we're not in a point anymore, that we can sit back and say, Hey, you know, uh, we did some harm when nature, so now let, let nature fix itself. It's, it's, we crossed a certain point with that and we need to think how we fix things ourselves in order to allow a sustainable future for ourselves. And one of the problems, uh, that, uh, with the help of humans where was introduced to earth is, is spread of, of, of species in places that they're not necessarily supposed to be.
And by that spreading all kinds of diseases that, uh, are causing great harm. Um, and so this tool has a potential called gene drive. This tool is called genes row, uh, because it drives the gene through the generations. Um, the gene drive has an incredible potential to help us deal with problems that right now, uh, are already harming us or harming us for decades like malaria in Africa that we can't solve. None of the current tools that we have have enabled us to solve this. Um, and it's actually only growing worse. The more we keep using the traditional tools like poison and so forth, because mosquitoes can,
uh, start developing a resistance to it or already are. Um, so there is an [inaudible]
credible Jeanette that they genetically adapt.
Yes, the mosquitoes have already genetically adapt to be resistant to the traditional poisons that we used over decades. And therefore in certain areas that are also very prawn for mosquitoes, like certain, uh, tropical areas in Africa and so forth. Uh, poison doesn't help. Eh, there's, there's nothing in our current tools, uh, that is allowing us to eradicate this disease and people are suffering and are dying in the millions. Um, and so a tool like that has immediately an incredible hope that a day before we had the [inaudible] we didn't have, which we can eradicate malaria right now we can introduce, uh, there's many ways to do it or there's many theoreticals ideas how to do it with gene drive. But one of the simplest tools is to introduce a tool that, um, creates a problem in, in the species to reproduce. And if it drives through the generations in a few generations from now and mosquitoes spread, uh, mosquitoes multiply very quickly. Uh, so it won't take a lot of time and a few generations from now you won't have any mosquitoes in that area. It will spread and spread and spread until eventually the population will crash. And if there's no one mosquitoes like scientists are seeing in our show, there's no malaria and, and you solve the problem. That sounds amazing. Um, yet you are toying with nature in a way that we, uh, never tried. And what are the unintended consequences of doing something like that? Uh,
no, I put this, I put this up at this topical solution on my dog and it does that to the fleet population in my backyard. Right, right. It could put you that there's so many apps,
occasions that you can start thinking of in terms of using the technology. But the, the main discussion point that it brings is
no, I mean, I mean that already happens. I'm saying I already do that. Although there's already something I buy at Costco that I put on my dogs. You know, the Napa, his neck and uh, it affects the flea population, the this fleet goes and mates with that fully. And it does exactly what you're saying. Only it does it with fleas in my entire backyard where ever my dog roams. But I'm not sure he spread the genes. I don't know the specific. Right, right, right, right. I understand what you're saying. But I think what I'm saying is that the concept is kind of already there out there in the, in the world. And we kind of do it. We do it with animals. We don't even think about it. But if you think about what you're doing to the flee population in my backyard, I'm manipulating it in a major way just so that I don't have fleas in my house. Right. You know? Right. But I think the differences, yeah, it's between
applications that we have now and, and, and gene drive is you're guaranteed to effect the entire species. And so, you know, you don't have to keep spreading whatever you in Costco that
you can release a few organisms. And these organisms potentially in theoretically will mate with other organisms. And, and, and the changes guaranteed and, uh, to the entire species. And that is, is, uh, again, could be very effective in place in, in certain applications or certain places that there's, that's the only possible way to deal with something. Uh, but again, since you're guaranteeing such a change, uh, you are guaranteeing and intervention in, in nature that is in a scale that we didn't
to the entire ecosystem. You're talking about changing the entire ecosystem.
If you think about it, I mean, in a, you know, in a strange way, you know, nature in a sense, as you said earlier, these mosquitoes have, they've adapted, there's nothing that can kill them. So in one hand, nature is outpacing human, you know, humankind, if you will. And we have the ability to catch up. Um, but you know, like you said, w what are the global a hundred year from now, consequences to that. And, and I, that's, that episode really kind of draws that out. Right.
You know, but the, there, the, there's also the question of what is the global consequences? A hundred years out of doing
nothing, of not doing exactly of not doing it. That's right. I guess I want to, I want to do, we've got just a few minutes left and I want to get to the last episode because I think it's a very ominous, a lot. When I was thinking about this whole concept, we go to football games and basketball games and concerts and essentially what we are watching is genetics against genetics. We, we, we, we don't know this, but we did you see that guy who's six, seven and he weighs 300 pounds and he can run for four and whatever. That's us being fascinated with genetics and cheering it on attraction. Devin and I were talking about this before the show started, but had the sexual attraction in itself is genetic engineering. You see that? You see that man, you see that woman and in everything in your, in your mind tells you they're bad for me.
I know they're bad for me, but I've got to make a child with them. You're genetically engineering a piece of the world. We are all doing this all the time. Um, and, and so, but, but, you know, obviously we're doing it through natural means, but, but it's essentially genetic genetic engineering. We're all doing that in. And we, I guess the question I have for you guys is this, to wrap up the last episode, did you, I've got, it's a two part question. Do you think about that in terms at all of God, did you, did you guys believe in God when you started and didn't, didn't, or did you not believe and then did, did it change your view on that at all? Did it not change your view on that at all? That's sort of the first part of the question. And then the second part is, is this how we survive
or is this how we go extinct? So I'll start with you, Joe. Yeah. Simple questions. Okay. All right. You know, I, I think, uh, I think one thing that we wanted to do when we dove into this was we, we wanted the audience to have a similar, uh, experience that we had. Because you hear about these, these technologies and you, you know, immediately go into a most people fear, right? Fear of designer babies, fear of mutated things flying around, fear of people doing crazy things in their garages, fear of corporations owning the technology and moving us into a dystopian world. All those things. We make movies about it. We, we have stories about it forever for many, many, many generations. But once we started, once we entered the world of sort of meeting these people, meeting these pioneers, the scientists, the biohackers, the patients you, you know, kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier, it starts distilling down too life and to humanity and to choices and, okay, I'll say this, uh, you know, there's a little bit of a tangent but kind of more in connected to what you're asking.
When, when I, when we were filming in Ukraine and filming the, um, the three, three, three person baby, a storyline and we were in with the embryologist, it's in the fourth episode and, and we are filming him perform [inaudible] this a technique which is without getting into the details, he's, he is manipulating a, an embryo, the genetic material of an embryo, um, right in front of our eyes. And it's, and, and it's to help this couple have a child and to, uh, potentially alleviate this embryo from a, a terrible mitochondrial disease.
The power of, of being in that room and the power of experiencing that happening. I don't know what to tell you and I don't have an answer for you in terms of, of God or spirituality. I just know that I felt that I was, you know, witnessing something incredibly powerful. Something that, that never in humankind, never in [inaudible] life on earth. [inaudible] have we had the ability and the power to do something like this. And this is the beginning. This is the very, very, very beginning that will continue to gain momentum and continue to push us forward. And you know, you hear people say, you hear scientists say even, but you hear people say, Oh we're still, we don't need to get into that. We're still a ways from curing that disease. We're still a ways from enhancing us in that way. Well 10 years ago nobody thought we were going to be able to edit DNA in the next decade and here we are. So I think what we really, really wanted to do with this, with this a series
does start a conversation and not just a conversation that's happening in labs and, and, and the circles of scientific papers, but in people's living rooms and people's kitchens as they debate these things and discuss these things. Cause people have a lot of various opinions. And like I said, some of this stuff maybe, maybe we should fear it, some of the stuff, maybe we should be excited about it, but I think we need to understand it before we can have those discussions. And hopefully the series does that in a, in a certain way, allows people to, to start this conversation and to, to understand it for w for what it is that the human
level. I love that.
[inaudible] did you, did you believe in God before this? Do you now, did you, did it change you? Did it not change?
Um, I definitely believed in the theory of evolution and, uh, the theory of natural selection by random mutation. And I thought that is a very, very solid fact of life that, um, I didn't think that within our lifetimes we would start thinking that we can, uh, so intentionally and, and, um, uh, intervene in it. Um, and I think that, you know, in, in one of the last moments of the series in episode four, um, one of our characters, dr Percena steep is saying a sentence that he actually said in one of our first interviews. And, and, and that was part of our inspiration in this journey. Um, he says we no longer have to accept natural selection on its terms. And that was such a powerful sentence when I first heard it. This idea that we don't have to accept natural selection just blows your mind with the amount of, uh, questions that immediately come up. Uh, first of all who said, I don't want to accept it is what happens when I don't accept it. Um, um, what, what shouldn't I accept? What should I accept? Maybe
that sounds like something a God would say, right?
It comes into a territory where yes. Where, where I think, you know, people say a lot the sentence playing God together with genetics and genetic manipulation because we're not used to the fact that we can do it. So if, if, if, if, if we're not used to the idea that humans can do it for us, it's a God, it's a God action. And, and the idea is that we can now intentionally intervene in this process and not have it a random mutation process, but a intentional mutation process is for me the most. That is the sentence that inspires me the most about doing this show and then going to people and seeing what they do with the idea that they can possibly do something like that. Where, where does their mind take them? W where did they, what is the first application that they think of doing and what is the first thing that they're concerned about?
And thinking about it for an extra generation, you know, there's so much good that we can do with it. They're there. W w w there's so much, so many things that we don't like about random mutations in natural selection. We, we don't like diseases. Nobody wants to be sick. Nobody wants his children to be sick. So if we can prevent a suffering that will be amazing. But are we willing to form our society in a way that makes sure that, uh, States don't have the power to, to, to tell us how to, uh, select our MBAs or select embryos, uh, for us. Uh, what does it mean when, when, uh, when, when the power of doing these things is not in your hand, what does it mean when it is in our hand? And we as a society fail to do the right thing about it? Um, I, I think these questions are, are incredibly important and incredibly fascinating and so many levels. And the discussion is only in the beginning of it.
I love the fact you're, you're so right. You love the fact that that given each human beings, you know, proclivity toward whatever they're going to like process this in their own way and so, so for, for some people, they see this as, I'm going to affect humanity for all of time with this technology in somebody, some, some. But there's always some guy that just wants the perfect dog. You know what I mean? Like he just, he just wants to have the perfect dog. That's all he wants.
And there's that. There's not necessarily something wrong about it. I think we have to accept that that's right. That we have to accept the fact that we, we've been trying to make a perfect dog forever. Yeah. But we may disagree on what is the perfect dog and I maybe, maybe, sorry,
maybe, maybe that's the deal. Maybe he's just like, you know what, let's just start with something. Let's start with something that we can do right now. I want the purpose thinking of, I have, right? I just want to throw in one question as we start to wrap a little bit. Was there anything that you guys saw, you know, Joe, you mentioned being in the room, um, with the three person, uh, baby, you know, uh, procedure. Was there anything that you guys saw, cause you spent a lot of time and we haven't really talked about this much. You guys spent a lot of time doing this. You spent a lot of time with, with, with these folks, you gained a lot of trust because you have to get that kind of trust, um, as you well know to, to get people to be honest. Was there anything that you guys saw that didn't make the, you know, the show or that you can speak to that made, you know, like, like, Holy crap, I can't even believe I just saw it as the real stuff on the cutting room floor as the Hulk really out there.
I mean what's, I think
that there, there are so many things that we experienced throughout the show in so many things our characters said throughout the show that we find fascinating and we wish we could include all of them. But obviously you can. I think there are, the more you dive into these questions, uh, and the more you get used to the idea that we are now in a place where we can start intervening when natural selection, uh, the amount of, of forward thinking and advanced thinking about it, it just grows and grows and grows and it never stops. And I think the next few years are going to be really, really interesting. And the more people know about it, the more we can have a more enriched debate.
I, and I think was,
you know, this is a global discussion, right? [inaudible] this is a technology that, that creates a global discussion because you can, you can regulate it in your state or your country. You can forbidden it in your state or your country. But that doesn't mean another state or another country isn't going to allow it, which you see some of that in our series, but just open the news, you know, and, and you'll see they're doing things in China. They're doing things in Russia, they're doing things in Ukraine. They're doing things, you know, this is a race in a, in a way, this is, this is the next technology. Right? And so it's, it's moving fast. And, and, um, I think w w w I'll, I'll say this, when we started, we did not expect that we would be filming, uh, a young boy who was going blind. I don't, I won't give spoilers, but the potential to see, we didn't think we would be filming someone inject themselves with CRISPR. We didn't, you know, we didn't, uh, that we get the list could go on. And that was in a, in a two year period. So, you know, it's, things will continue to move and move forward and, and, and, you know, you never want to say something is inevitable, but it's inevitable. And so it's good to discuss it. And, uh, we hope to keep discussing it.
Well guys, thank you so much for being on the show. I can tell you, uh, as a songwriter, I'm like you, I'm an observer of humanity. That's kinda part of my job. It has been my experience that if humans, if they can figure out how to do something, they will. And you guys have shown that you've just shown it so well in this, in this series. The series is called unnatural selection on Netflix. It's so fascinating. We could talk to you guys for another four hours. I mean, I'd love to open a bottle of wine and just, uh, you know, drag all this out.
Yes. And I encourage everybody to go out, watch this. I was read, said Netflix and natural selection. It will blow your mind. Um, guys, where, where else can you guys be found? Um, and on your social media or, um, our website is twists and turn films.com and well there's a Facebook page of twists and ruined films and an Instagram page and a Twitter page will all of the above. Great and neat. And both of you guys can be found there, correct? Yes, correct. Yup. Awesome. Uh, well again, thanks guys. Um, really appreciate it and we're very excited to, uh, have had you on and dessert to just start this conversation and be a part of it. So, uh, again, go out, watch a natural selection on Netflix. Thank you so much. Thanks guys. For more info on Joe and the or and their show, head over to the groove, podcast.com to check out the show notes. We'll have links to their website, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and I'm sure they would love to hear from you. We would love to hear from you as well. Let us know what you think about the show and stay tuned for more episodes of the groove.
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