Odds are, if you’re like most Americans, you probably first came across the most significant scientific discovery of the 21st century in a passing moment onscreen. Perhaps you saw a mutagenic bioweapon unleash a trio of monsters on the city of Chicago in last year’s Rampage. Or you watched as a scientist made a man part abalone, giving him supermollusc strength and unbreakable skin, in 2016’s Luke Cage. The tool used in both, known as Crispr, has been steadily creeping into mainstream pop culture, injecting new genetic engineering twists into speculative fiction. But the true story of Crispr, while less fantastical, is no less dramatic.
That’s the takeaway from a trailer released today for Netflix’s new four-part docuseries, Unnatural Selection, which promises to take even the most casual viewer inside the revolution that has been brewing inside labs, companies, and garages around the world. Using the bacterial quirk that is Crispr, scientists have essentially given anyone with a micropipette and an internet connection the power to manipulate the genetic code of any living thing.
The teaser zooms in on the stomach-stabbing self-experimentations of biohackers like Josiah Zayner and Aaron Traywick. But the show’s co-creators, Joe Egender and Leeor Kaufman, say DIY Crispr is just one subplot in the larger narrative about what happens when nature can be minutely controlled, when humans might even preside over their own evolution. Their cameras also follow scientists like Jennifer Doudna and Kevin Esvelt and the first patients in an experimental gene therapy trial to treat hereditary blindness. “Our main hope is to create a discussion around these technologies,” says Egender. “People might come away excited. Or they might be scared. But at least that means they’re talking and learning and understanding what’s coming.”
Egender and Kaufman aren’t the first filmmakers to tackle the wild possibilities and thorny concerns brought on by Crispr. Earlier this year, a feature-length documentary called Human Nature premiered at SXSW, featuring interviews with the brightest stars and most contentious figures in the Crisprati. Directed by Adam Bolt and co-produced by Dan Rather, Human Nature is being released in theaters in Canada this fall. According to the studio, the film won’t be distributed in the US until sometime in 2020.
Unnatural Selection ought to bring the existential promise and peril of Crispr gene editing into people’s homes and dinner table discussions much sooner. The series debuts October 18 on Netflix. Until then, you can watch the trailer above.