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gloved hand drops liquid into a vial labeled CRISPR

The opening scene of "Unnatural Selection," a four-part docuseries released recently from Netflix, depicts scientist Jennifer Doudna showing off a tiny sample of a colorless liquid. It contains, she says, an enzyme that allows her to add or remove any piece of DNA from any living organisms. This scene launches an exploration of the people who are taking up — and talking up — that opportunity, which Doudna did much to bring about. In this scene though, as in the remainder of the series, there is scant pushback on the hyperbolic narratives tracked over the four episodes. But, having built up the potential of gene editing, "Unnatural Selection" fails to explore the qualifications and correctives that call into question the whole project of gene editing. One wonders, in fact, if the filmmakers were even aware of the larger existential questions it raises.

The protagonists of the series span an extraordinarily wide spectrum. Spark Therapeutics claims to have invented a gene therapy cure for a special kind of inherited blindness. The biotech company has chosen its smooth-talking and sharply dressed company... see more