Hack­ing Dar­win: Genet­ic Engi­neer­ing and the Future of Humanity

January 1, 2013

From lead­ing geopo­lit­i­cal expert and tech­nol­o­gy futur­ist Jamie Met­zl comes a ground­break­ing explo­ration of the many ways genet­ic-engi­neer­ing is shak­ing the core foun­da­tions of our lives — sex, war, love, and death.

At the dawn of the genet­ics rev­o­lu­tion, our DNA is becom­ing as read­able, writable, and hack­able as our infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy. But as human­i­ty starts retool­ing our own genet­ic code, the choic­es we make today will be the dif­fer­ence between real­iz­ing breath­tak­ing advances in human well-being and descend­ing into a dan­ger­ous and poten­tial­ly dead­ly genet­ic arms race.

Enter the lab­o­ra­to­ries where sci­en­tists are turn­ing sci­ence fic­tion into real­i­ty. Look towards a future where our deep­est beliefs, morals, reli­gions, and pol­i­tics are chal­lenged like nev­er before and the very essence of what it means to be human is at play. When we can engi­neer our future chil­dren, mas­sive­ly extend our lifes­pans, build life from scratch, and recre­ate the plant and ani­mal world, should we?

Pas­sion­ate, provoca­tive, and high­ly illu­mi­nat­ing, Hack­ing Dar­win is the must read book about the future of our species.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jamie Metzl

  1. Hack­ing Dar­win describes a future that is both exhil­a­rat­ing and fright­en­ing. What parts of the book made you feel excit­ed about the poten­tial of genet­ic tech­nolo­gies to help peo­ple and make our world a bet­ter place? What parts of the book fright­ened you, and why? 

  2. The book out­lines how aggres­sive­ly humans have remade the world around us through hunt­ing, agri­cul­ture, med­i­cine, and urban­iza­tion. Much of what we call nature,” includ­ing most of the foods we eat and the forests we hike in, has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly remade by our ances­tors. What does it mean for some­thing to be nat­ur­al? How does the appli­ca­tion of human inge­nu­ity to the world around us make some­thing unnat­ur­al? Should the fact that human genet­ic engi­neer­ing often feels unnat­ur­al be a rea­son for not doing it?

  3. Would you sup­port the appli­ca­tion of gene ther­a­py in your child to alter the expres­sion of a sin­gle genet­ic muta­tion threat­en­ing his or her life? If not, why not? If so, would you also sup­port gene edit­ing the pre- implant­ed embryo of your poten­tial future child to pre­vent the dead­ly muta­tion from tak­ing hold in the first place? What are the essen­tial dif­fer­ences between these two interventions?

  4. Sex­u­al repro­duc­tion has exist­ed for about 1.2 bil­lion years and been a key dri­ver of diver­si­ty and resilience in the ani­mal world. How­ev­er, Jamie Met­zl argues that while humans will remain a sex­u­al­ly repro­duc­ing species we’ll less and less con­ceive our chil­dren through sex. What are your feel­ings on mak­ing a baby through IVF and embryo selec­tion if doing so could sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce the chances your future child might be born with a harm­ful genet­ic abnormality?

  5. If you were already using advanced repro­duc­tive tech­nolo­gies in the baby-mak­ing process to pre­vent dis­ease, would you want infor­ma­tion about oth­er poten­tial genet­ic dis­eases, dis­or­ders, and traits? What type of genet­ic infor­ma­tion would you want to have? Is there any infor­ma­tion you would not want to have?

  6. If you decide to genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer your future chil­dren though advanced embryo selec­tion and lim­it­ed gene edit­ing, what traits would you pri­or­i­tize? What would be the lim­its of this intervention?

  7. Deter­min­ing how to use genet­ic engi­neer­ing in ways that opti­mize ben­e­fits and min­i­mize harm will be among the great­est eth­i­cal chal­lenges of our gen­er­a­tion. How can we best ensure that the appli­ca­tion of these tech­nolo­gies will not under­mine our essen­tial equi­ty and diver­si­ty? What restric­tions should be estab­lished and on what basis?

  8. Imag­ine your descen­dants two hun­dred years from now. How might they be genet­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from humans today? How do you feel about that?