Breaking Down Some Crazy Science with Orphan Black

Tatiana Maslany as Sarah in Orphan Black

I’m enjoying The Mary Sue’s series of posts they call an Orphan Black science recap. Casey Griffin and Nina Nesseth write these posts, in which they discuss the science aspects of a particular episode.

Last week, in “The Stigmata of Progress” episode, they explained why Charlotte was already sick even when she’s so young and what having a neurotoxin released into the maxillary artery could mean to Sarah and others who carry the maggotbot.

This week, I read a very long post on TechCrunch, “Homo Sapiens 2.0? We need a species-wide conversation about the future of human genetic enhancement.” Wow, I thought, this is the stuff of Orphan Black right here on TechCrunch.

REpresentation of DNA
Representation of DNA via McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT

I thought I’d break that very long post at TechCrunch into simple bullet points that relate to Orphan Black. Here’s the result, all direct quotes.

  • We have all the tools we need to alter the genetic makeup of our species. The science is here. The realization is inevitable. Timing is the only variable.
  • . . . the first state-authorized genetically altered babies will be born in the UK later this year.
  • . . . preimplantation embryo screening will begin to eliminate many of the terrible genetic diseases that have plagued our ancestors for millennia.
  • The second overlapping phase of the human genetic revolution takes a further step by promising to bump up the number of eggs available in IVF.
  • Gene editing and other genetic technologies are no longer confined to governments, clinics, and large corporations. The DIYbio, or biohacking, movement is exploding around the world. High school kids can now engineer genes in their basements, hobbyists in their garages.

The remainder of the article explains why it is so important that we as a species begin a worldwide conversation about these topics.

I want to thank John Fawcett, Graeme Manson, and the other creators of Orphan Black for tackling these topics and for wrapping the discussion of them up in a work of fiction that appeals to millions of fans across the globe. From the beginning, the series has looked at questions of science, human cloning, and cloning by the military industrial complex. Now in season 4 they look genetic manipulation of humans according to the wishes of but a few individuals.

The conversation about genetic manipulation of food, of humans, and other other creatures has been going on for a while, but it’s reaching a tipping point. We’re going to lose control of what happens if we don’t address some of the questions raised by gene editing together, in public, in transparent ways.

If you’ve never thought of Orphan Black as a catalyst in the conversation about modern-day science questions, I suggest it is. In addition to your interest in what Sarah is up to or when Cosima will be healed, it’s a good idea to be thinking about the crazy science that this series delivers.

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