Coming to PBS today, Tuesday, April 7 and next Tuesday, April 14:
THE GENE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY
Chris Durrance and Jack Youngelson
PBS broadcast (April 2020)
A far-ranging history of the discovery and research into the human genome.
Based on the eponymous book by Pulitzer Prize-winning oncologist Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, and executive produced by Ken Burns, this two-part, four-hour documentary provides viewers with a crash course in genetic science, tracing its development from the pioneering 19th century studies of Gregor Mendel to the mapping of the human genome and more recent, thorny questions around genetic manipulation through technologies like CRISPR. Threaded alongside this history – which, while informative, is presented in a conventional, educational PBS style of expository narration, talking heads, and graphics – are various profiles of individuals facing challenges due to genetic diseases, bringing a human angle while also demonstrating the wide implications of the science being discussed. The project’s expanded form allows room to address the complex ethical issues involved, and to contextualize them with considerations of how genetic science has been perverted in the past through eugenics, and how this could resurface through modern genetic tinkering. This is critical, as shown in the disturbing development which serves as the film’s bookend, the November 2018 announcement that a Chinese researcher defied an agreed upon moratorium on clinical gene-editing to alter twin baby girls in vitro to be unable to contract HIV.