With the first genetically modified babies born in October 2018 in China, The Mutant Project has officially begun. Of course, the doctor involved was ultimately sentenced to a three-year prison term. But once the genie is out of his bottle, it’s impossible to coax him back in.
It turns out that CRISPR, the tool used for gene editing, is less like Microsoft’s cut and paste and “more like a tiny Reaper drone that can produce targeted damage to DNA.” It can “produce serious collateral damage, like a drone attack that accidentally takes out a wedding party instead of the intended target.“
The book spends a lot of time (42%!) explaining how the AIDS crisis has produced a bunch of genetic hackers trying to use loops of DNA to fight AIDS. Injecting yourself with untested “cures” reminds me of citizen science during the Renaissance. It is both exciting and scary in equal measures.
Much of the history depicted here is also shown in the Netflix limited series, Unnatural Selection, in edited form. So if you were intrigued by the show, you can get more details here. Or you, like me, can watch the show after reading the book to see what everyone looks like.
If you like real science written in an easily understandable way, read The Mutant Project. It does a great job explaining how gene manipulation may soon cure genetic diseases. CRISPR, more disturbingly, can also allow rich parents to pick their child’s physical traits and health risks, well before birth. It really is a Brave New World. 4 stars!
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.