Waiting for the next Asimov

The DNA double helix as a metaphor for the relationship between genetics and SciFi – novels and movies on the one strand and scientific breakthroughs on the other strand. It’s courtesy of graduated student Kartik Lakshmi Rallapalli, who examines the science and fiction timelines in a post for the Addgene blog.

Please let me add that we are still waiting for the next Asimov falling in love with CRISPR and beyond, and in the meantime it would be wise to stop citing the most misused novel in the life sciences debates, as suggested by Derek So in The CRISPR Journal.

Brave New World is “mentioned by proponents and by opponents of gene editing, by secular authors and by theologians, by authors who think its vision of the dystopian future is likely and by those who think it is absurd.” Allusions to Huxley’s novel have appeared in more than 500 academic articles about CRISPR, writes So.

Paradoxically, it was published more than 10 years before Avery determined that DNA was the carrier of genetic information and more than 20 years before Watson and Crick described its structure. Here are some alternatives to the usual literary references, mentioned in The CRISPR Journal

John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), tackles the political implications when a populous Southeast Asian country sparks outrage from the West by announcing a genetic optimization program.

Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), is a feminist classic that explores how genetic engineering might be used in a society committed to racial and sexual equality.

 C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen (1988), could be considered a more character-centric update of Brave New World, following two generations of scientists and subjects at a facility that produces people to fill different social roles.

Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (1989), a National Book Award nominee, explores norms of health and beauty in a group of children whose parents whimsically use mutagens to make them all as unique as different rose cultivars.

Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003– 2013), starting with Oryx and Crake, depicts a hypercapitalist dystopia dominated by biotechnology companies, where one scientist attempts to redesign a less exploitative species of human.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009) intertwines genome editing and climate change through the title character, who lives in an ecologically ravaged Thailand but has difficulty sweating because her pores were minimized for aesthetic purposes.

Richard Powers’ Generosity: An Enhancement (2009), examines genetic exceptionalism and media hype over the purported discovery of a gene for “happiness.”

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