Where might DNA science lead? The conclusion of this series offers “a look into the Pandora's Box with the person who opened it”: James Watson, who defends genetic engineering in plants and “enhancements” in humans to combat disease and disability. The hour recalls the abuses spawned by the “eugenics” movement of the early 20th century, and the genetic experimentation undertaken by the Nazis. Asks narrator Jeff Goldblum: “Where do you draw the line?” Watson rejects any coercian in genetics, but adds: “If we don't play God, who will?”
Part 4 (of five) examines the role DNA can play in curing cancer, as scientists “[trace] every cancer back to its origins---back to its DNA,” says narrator Jeff Goldblum. The hour chronicles the race to find the gene that causes inherited breast cancer; follows researchers as they look for differences in cancers as a prelude to tailoring treatments; and looks at how one researcher's work paid off for a man with a rare leukemia. “If you know how a patient's DNA has been damaged,” says Goldblum, “you can cure cancer.”
Part 3 of 5. President Bill Clinton is among the commentators in this chronicle of the race in the 1990s to map the human genome. This would enable humans "to read our own instruction manual," says Dr. Francis S. Collins, who headed the government-funded mapping project. But it was too slow---and the commercial prospects too great---to keep private competitors (including J. Craig Venter) out for long. Called upon to act as referee: Clinton, who notes that "there was enough credit to go around."
Part 2 traces the scientific and entrepreuneurial development of genetic engineering since the first successful gene-splicing experiments in 1973, and the attendant controversy. Scientists recall the race to make genetically engineered insulin and efforts to modify plants to improve their yield and make them disease-resistant. Says genetic engineer Rob Horsch: “In 2 billion years of evolution, just the bare surface has been scratched of what's possible with the genetic code of DNA.”
Jeff Goldblum narrates this five-part survey of “the force at the heart of life.” Part 1 charts the three-way race to discover “the instructions that [tell] cells what to do.” There was plenty of blood left on British laboratory floors by the time James Watson and Francis Crick identified the double helix on Feb. 28, 1953. Watson recalls his role here with relish. (The camera-shy Crick is seen only briefly in a 1994 interview). Meanwhile, loser Maurice Wilkins is decidedly more circumspect.