EXPLORE The Science & Fiction of ANYA
This page is an evolving resource for those interested in diving deeper into topics related to ANYA.
Coming Fall 2019: Teaching Resources & Discussion Guides for Hosted Screenings
CREATING THE NARVAL CULTURE & BIOLOGY
An anthropology informed thought experiment gave the Narval their origin story.
Guest post by Jose Moreno-Cortes on creating ANYA’s Narval language.
Our science advisor, Dr. Ting Wu, explains how/why she lent her research to ANYA.
Science advisor, Dr. Ruth McCole, shares her experiences on ANYA.
Jon Irabagon composed the Narval Theme Song
IN THE NEWS - GENETICS TECHNOLOGIES
ANYA takes a fictional look at a couple, a scientist, and a small community deciding whether to pursue gene-editing to have a healthy baby. In the real world, the race is on to produce — and to regulate — gene-edited babies.
When we filmed ANYA, this kind of gene-editing was still fiction. But by last November, when we were in post-production, news broke that a Chinese scientist had created twin “CRISPR babies.” Now, a Russian molecular biologist plans to implant gene-edited embryos in HIV+ volunteer mothers as early as the end of 2019. His goal is similar: to edit the embryos’ CCR5 genes in a way that reduces the risks of passing on HIV in utero.
This proposal comes at a time when most scientists believe that experiments on “gene-edited babies” should be banned until an international ethical framework is in place.
Read Nature’s 6/10/19 article on Dr. Denis Rebrikov’s controversial proposal.
ANYA encourages viewers to join the worldwide debate now underway on how best to regulate gene editing in human sperm, eggs, and embryos.
“The scientist who edited the genomes of twin girls in an attempt to make them resistant to HIV might have inadvertently shortened their life expectancy.”
Image: Biophysicist He Jiankui helped to create the world's first gene-edited babies.
Image Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP/Shutterstock
The databases used in genetics research consist overwhelmingly of genomes from people of European descent. To boost the participation of marginalized communities in genetic studies, doctors must first win back their trust.
Investigations continue into Dr. He Jianku’s claim to have created the world’s first gene-edited babies. This article details responses from Dr. He’s American advisors when he was a postdoctoral fellow and grad student. The article raises a number of questions. Do faculty members — and academic institutions more generally — bear responsibility in the actions of the students they mentor? When does this obligation end? To whom should they report suspected ethical breaches or “corner cutting”? Especially when the students have moved on to other institutions or countries?
Article by Pam Belluck for the New York Times.
Image by Mark Schiefelbein, Associated Press: Dr. He’s team working on an embryo in a sperm injection microscope in Shenzhen, China.
“A push to calculate a "genetic income score" using giant DNA databases raises a raft of ethical questions.”
Article by Megan Molteni, Wired.
Image by Lauren Joseph, Getty Images.
ANYA deals with unintended consequences of contemporary genetic technologies and broaches the related ethics.
Stories coming out in the news suggest we only scratched the surface of what’s coming. At the 2019 Festival of Genomics in London, I learned a new UK initiative to collect 5,000,000 human genomes for medical and insurance purposes. Norway and other countries have similar but smaller programs. More sequenced DNA means bigger more accurate data bases for personalized medicine, crime fighting, and other purposes.
From news coming out of China this week, it appears that mass collection of DNA has given us something else to worry about: surveillance, oppression, and thorny issues about how foreign corporations and academics participate in legitimizing activities that might be illegal or at least unethical at home.
HERE ARE A few things you can buy with $200: one bluetooth-controlled fire pit, 100 lab-grown Impossible White Castle sliders, access to the 6.4 billion base pairs that make up all the DNA coiled inside your cells. Veritas Genetics current promotion offers $199 genome sequencing (typically $999). (Meghan Molteni for Wired.)
Another twist in the ongoing story of scientist He Jiankui, whose whereabouts are now unknown after his experiment editing the genes of two Chinese babies was condemned by scientists around the world. Reported by Kelsey Cheng for MailOnline
It’s been a week of fast and furious headlines as the news of the first “CRISPR babies” spreads since the original announcement by MIT Technology Review on 11/25/18. It’s been fascinating to watch how different media cover the story. It will be interesting to see if the public ultimately embraces the technological advance or meets it with a collective shrug. (Preliminary news analysis by ANYA filmmaker, anthropologist Carylanna Taylor).
“It felt as if humanity had crossed an important line: In China, a scientist named He Jiankui announced on Monday that twins had been born in November with a gene that he had edited when they were embryos. But in some ways this news is not new at all. A few genetically modified people already walk among us.” Carl Zimmer (New York Times) goes on to remind us of a few of these cases, three-parent embryos through “mitochondrial replacement therapy.”
IN THE NEWS - HUMAN DIVERSITY
Our family tree is getting bushier with each new study!
Today, a study published in CELL draws on DNA analysis of living Southeast Asians to show that a fourth species of humans lived alongside modern humans, Denisovans, and Neanderthals . What’s more, the Denisovans were surprisingly diverse and may have been the last group to live beside modern humans, contributing to the DNA of modern humans as recently as 15,000 years ago.
Evolutionary anthropologist John Hawks shares his thoughts on the meaning of the latest discovery in the human family tree: a previously undiscovered new species of human relatives named Homo luzonensis after the island in the Philippines where they lived.
This post to the Sapiens.org anthropology blog, puts the finding in perspective: over the past 20 years there’s been a boom of unprecedented new discoveries. Not all may merit the label “new species” but they speak to many-branched human tree and many opportunities for new exploration.
Mounting evidence shows that ancient human groups (some once considered different species) not only coexisted, they interbred. (Nature)
Carl Zimmer: “Genetic analysis of bones discovered in a Siberian cave hints that the prehistoric world may have been filled with ‘hybrid’ humans.” (New York Times)
“When modern humans migrated out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, they found the Eurasian continent already inhabited by brawny, big-browed Neanderthals. We know that at least some encounters between the two kinds of human produced offspring, because the genomes of people living outside Africa today are composed of some 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA. Two studies published concurrently in Nature and Science on Wednesday suggest that while the Neanderthal contribution to our genomes was modest, it may have proved vitally important.” (Ed Yong, National Geographic)
Image comparing Neanderthal and modern human anatomy by Joe McNally.
It’s no coincidence that this is the month we began writing ANYA and that ANYA’s fictional geneticist, “Dr. Seymour Livingston,” studies Neanderthal DNA.
in the news - Diversity in Film & SCIENCE
UCLA’s latest Hollywood diversity report shows that “despite gains in front of and behind the camera, women and minorities remain underrepresented in film and television. The study also included evidence that suggests audiences tend to prefer movies and TV shows that feature relatively diverse casts.”
Image Credit: Still from the animated film “Coco”
Fewer than 1 percent of doctorates in math are awarded to African-Americans. Edray Goins, who earned one of them, found the upper reaches of the math world a challenging place. His experiences offer insight into what academic life might be like for ANYA’s Dr. Seymour Livingston.
Diversity is central to ANYA: on screen, in the crew, and in the story. Article by Thessaly La Force (New York Times)