The Perfect 46: A “Science Factual” Film about our Near Future

by Jessica Cussins

 

Sitting down to watch the science fiction film The Perfect 46, I had the strange sensation of walking through a hall of mirrors. Intriguingly meta-conscious, and perceptibly close to reality, this film highlights the world of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetics and makes it clear that this technology, now at our real-world doorsteps, could drastically shape our very near future.  [Emphasis - DNI]

The story centers on the aptly named company ThePerfect46, which starts off with a seemingly innocuous mission. Taking advantage of the fact that most Californians have had their genomes sequenced by this undefined point in time, it simply offers to analyze a couple’s genomes alongside each other to determine their ability to have a disease-free child.  

But founder and CEO Jesse Darden isn’t content to stop there. In a move that sparks internal controversy and leads to one staff person abandoning the project, he rolls out version 2.0, which allows the company to search through giant databases and match random people together based solely on their ability to create genetically “ideal” children. The film cuts back and forth between a tense situation unfolding for Darden, flashbacks of his life, and a documentary film made about his rise and fall. 

While The Perfect 46 is a fictional film, it is being promoted by a real-life website purporting to actually sell ThePerfect46 product (kudos for the smart marketing ploy!). 

Darden, played quite well by Whit Hertford, is the star of The Perfect 46. He is a Steve Jobs-esque anti-hero: the disliked techie genius, the man behind the company that aims to improve humanity but ends up causing great harm. Darden comes across as “a tortured genius… a character that can be lauded and loathed in equal measure.” He is romanticized as smart and entrepreneurial, but his considerable personal and inter-personal flaws are never out of view. 

Perhaps by now both Darden and ThePerfect46 sound strangely familiar. If so, it’s probably because the similarities to companies and products that actually exist right now are jarring. This is a kind of science fiction that is only just barely fictional.

In fact, writer and director Brett Ryan Bonowicz calls The Perfect 46 science factual.” He invited a number of researchers to be consultants on the film and strove to show “a respect for science.” The scientific community has applauded his use of “authentic science” and raved about how the film is “a refreshing change of pace” because it doesn’t dissolve into a dystopian nightmare.  Here Bonowicz elaborates on why he pursued this approach,

By making the film as factually accurate as possible, the conversation that the film creates should, I think, spark something that a more futuristic, fantastic treatment perhaps cannot. The topics we cover in the film – genetics, eugenics, the moral and ethical implications of a consumer genetics service, and the role of government vs. a DTC model – are discussions that deserve to be out in the public. This is a film of the moment.

 In fact, you may find reality to be even more bizarre than this particular fiction. Just last year, the infamous DTC genetics company 23andMe received a patent for "gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations." The premise of the technology was that it could allow people to choose a sperm or egg provider based on probabilities of having a child with the kinds of characteristics they desired including “height, eye color, gender, personality characteristics and risk of developing certain types of cancer.” In response to backlash from the media about its “designer baby patent” with drop-down menus of characteristics, 23andMe assured everyone that it no longer had any plans to pursue the full range of possibilities described.

Another company, GenePeeks, has remained undaunted. GenePeeks launched just months ago, founded by molecular biologist Lee Silver, who writes broadly about how positive eugenics is both laudable and inevitable, and Anne Morriss, the mother of a sperm donor-conceived son who inherited the rare recessive disease MCADD.

GenePeeks’ “Matchright” is remarkably similar to the product offered by ThePerfect46For $1995, “GenePeeks digitally combines your DNA and the DNA of potential donor matches to create a preview of thousands of personal genomes that your child could inherit, focusing on a panel of genes involved in childhood health and disease.” Based on this information, you can then preview your personal “catalog” of donors and further weed them out based on your preference for such characteristics as height, eye color, hair color, education level, and ethnicity. 

What GenePeeks hasn’t marketed yet is its ability to test for much more than “health and disease.” But the patent it was awarded in January explicitly lists many non-medical traits: aggression, weight, breast size/shape, drinking behavior, drug abuse, eating behavior, ejaculation function, emotional affect, eye color/shape, hair color, height, learning/memory, mating patterns, sex, skin color/texture, and social intelligence, among others. It is thought to be possible to screen for just some of these traits, but all are covered by the patent.

Furthermore, GenePeeks doesn’t intend to limit its availability to sperm banks. It plans to expand soon and become available for “anyone planning a pregnancy in advance.” Of course, there is at least one fundamental flaw in the methodology of all these schemes: two people can have an infinite number of children with a full range of characteristics. Choosing a “preferred” donor can’t possibly absolve all risk

In fact [spoiler alert], in The Perfect 46, a bug in the company’s algorithm results in the birth of 24 children with a severe genetic disorder. The horrific mistake causes the company to close its doors and forces Darden into solitude, where he continues to develop his work and reflect on what went wrong. What is perhaps most remarkable about the scenario is that no one is ever found to be at fault, even when some of the children die, and at least one suicide results. While Darden is depicted as a broken man, devastated by the fault in a system he designed, he is relatively unmoved by personal stories, including one about a loving couple that divorced after hearing they were “incompatible.” In his mind, “Just because I created something doesn’t mean I’m responsible for how people use it.”

Is this the kind of language that will be used around technologies governing life and death in our market-driven culture? The film probes many such important questions. How quickly does the right to know become the responsibility, or even the requirement, to know? What will people do with this information? And what happens, and who is accountable, when it is wrong? 

(If 23andMe is anything to go by, some information will be wrong.)

Furthermore, can changing the kinds of people who are born really be considered “preventative medicine?” When recommendations about who is “fit” to be born are made by a commercial entity, does the absence of state involvement make the actions less eugenic? Is “perfection” what we ought to strive for? If so, what do we make of the founder – who is anxious, anti-social, awkward, not good-looking, and in the end, in “an irony that was lost on no one,” infertile?

The desire to know and control more, even when the meaning of the knowledge and our ability to control it is imperfect, can be powerful. But while it makes marketing sense for drug and genetic testing companies to pathologize more and more conditions, it probably doesn’t make sense for us. As these technologies become increasingly present in our lives, that point risks getting lost.

GenePeeks has just received $3 million in financing. The concept of adding genetic profiles to dating sites seems to be gaining steam. These trends suggest that this film could well be “more of a glimpse of the future than simply a hypothetical conversation about ethics and genetics.” 

But if The Perfect 46 is “a sort of prequel to Gattaca,” hopefully we will find a way to stop short of that future. 

You can find upcoming screenings of this thought-provoking film here, and check out CGS’s personal genomics news page here. Can you make it through the hall of mirrors, discerning the difference between fiction and reality?



[Note:  The burning question remains:  Can they really decode anyone’s genome?  Answer:  No.

Remember that the “human genome” is defined as the total DNA in both the nucleus and the mitochondria outside the nucleus of a cell.  Aside from the fact that only about 15% of  “THE” Human Genome has still only been decoded (along with problems like individual genomes are unique;  the sample consisted of mixing multiple samples from people around the world;  only the nuclear genes, and only their extrons, were addressed, etc. (see:  http://web.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/project/index.shtml), what about that part of an individual’s genome provided by the person’s mitochondria?  And what about the 85% of the nuclear genes in an individual’s cells that was called “junk DNA” in the “introns” of those nuclear genes until lately?  Are these “kits” even capable of determining the mitochondria and the “junk DNA” in those “introns”?  See, e.g.: 

--  “DNA is actually not well understood. 97% of human DNA is called ³junk² because scientists do not know its function. The workings of a single cell are so complex, no one knows the whole of it. Yet the biotech companies have already planted millions of acres with genetically engineered crops, and they intend to engineer every crop in the world.”

Genetic Engineering and “Junk” DNA, Genetic Engineering, at:  http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/ramyasekaran-1541143-genetic-engineering/

--  The Astonishing Powers of "Junk" DNA

http://www.khouse.org/enews_article/2012/1982/

--  Most of What you Read was Wrong: How Press Releases Rewrote Scientific History, Center for Genetics and Society, at: 

http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?id=6390

--  Never-Seen-Before Secret DNA Code And An 'Unusual Meaning'-Scientists Find, at:  http://www.designntrend.com/articles/9627/20131214/never-seen-before-secret-dna-code-unusual-meaning-scientists-find.htm 

-- Junk DNA — Not So Useless After All

“Researchers report on a new revelation about the human genome: it’s full of active, functioning DNA, and it's a lot more complex than we ever thought, at:  http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/06/junk-dna-not-so-useless-after-all/

--  What Junk DNA? It’s an Operating System;  Their report adds to growing experimental support for the idea that all that extra stuff in the human genes, once referred to as “junk DNA,” is more than functionless, space-filling material that happens to make up nearly 98% of the genomehttp://www.genengnews.com/insight-and-intelligenceand153/what-junk-dna-it-s-an-operating-system/77899872/ 

Given that their claims don’t even mention those DNA’s gives an indication that they don’t.  So what does an individual who buys such “kits” really end of knowing about their genome -- and how can any medical or eugenic decisions be based on such “information”?  Indeed, how can any supposed “ideal child” be genetically designed at all?  Is so-called “positive eugenics” a bunch of nonsense?  Perhaps the above, too, is a “discussion that deserves to be out in the public”!  In fact, much of what passes as "genetics research" and the "kits" described below would seem to border on scientific fraud -- and someone should be held legally accountable. The article first appeared here.

Caveat emptor!  --  DNI]



Birth of ‘living materials’ at MIT combines synthetic biology, materials engineering

by Kenrick Vezina

Illustration by Yan Liang, via MIT News.

A team at MIT has combined techniques from synthetic biology and materials engineering to create hybrid “living materials”: bacteria engineered to take up functional nanoparticles and grow into thin layers with usable properties, like electrical conduction or light emission. This achievement is a perfect follow-up to news from earlier this month that another group at MIT had successfully created bionic plants   [Emphasis Others] (Read our Gene-ius post on the news here.)

Anne Trafton, writing for MIT News, reports: 

These “living materials” combine the advantages of live cells, which respond to their environment, produce complex biological molecules, and span multiple length scales, with the benefits of nonliving materials, which add functions such as conducting electricity or emitting light. 

The organic analog of choice is bone. As Amina Kahn at the Los Angeles Times puts it:

 Our bones are remarkable feats of engineering; strong and yet light, shot through with holes and yet able to bear incredible loads. This super-strong natural material is built as cells incorporate hard minerals like calcium into living tissue

The MIT team, led by assistant professor of electrical engineering and biological engineering Timothy Lu, was inspired by this interplay of living cells with nonliving components.

The process Lu and his team used begins with the bacteria E. coli and genetic engineering. They chose E. coli because it naturally produces thin, slimy films that adhere to surfaces — it’s this adhesion that’s key. In order to adhere to surfaces, E. coli produces “curli fibers”, comprised of repeating protein chains.

The MIT team replaced the bacteria’s ability to produce curli fibers with an engineered genetic circuit that only produces curli fibers if given a certain molecule. Now the team essentially has an on-off switch for the bacteria and can control the formation of biofilms: supply the bacteria with the trigger molecule and they produce curli fibers and form biofilms.

On top of this, the team engineered another set of E. coli with a similar on-off switch but based on a different molecular trigger. And these bacteria were modified one step further: researchers altered the genes coding for the creation of curli fibers so that the protein chains would grab on to gold nanoparticles

So they had two varieties of engineered bacteria, both controllable via distinct molecule of their choosing, and one of the two’s ability to latch onto its environment with curli fibers has been co-opted to make the bacteria gather tiny bits of gold from its environment. 

Take both varieties, grow them together; manage their growth relative to one another with the two on-off molecules; and supply some nanoscale bits of gold. The researchers did just this and managed to coax the bacteria to build a tiny film laced through with gold nanowires: a conductive surface comprised of living cells

And the conductive biofilm is just one of several proofs-of-concept to come out of this project. 

The team was also able to embed quantum dots — semiconductor nanoparticles that glow a particular color after being illuminated by light — in their biofilm through a similar technique.

The final success lies in getting their modified cells to communicate with one another, as emphasized by the Christian Science Monitor. The molecular “on-off switches” described above don’t necessarily need to be supplied manually; in fact the researchers produced a third variety of E. coli which naturally produced the chemical trigger, activating the generation of gold-locking curli fibers in the second variety.

The potential applications for these living materials include batteries and solar cells, diagnostic devices and scaffolds for tissue engineering. According to Trafton, “The researchers are also interested in coating the biofilms with enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of cellulose, which could be useful for converting agricultural waste to biofuels.”

This latest breakthrough is sure to be one of many similar efforts that blurs the perceived boundaries between living and nonliving, artificial and organic. We’re increasingly able, as Lu and his team demonstrate, to manipulate our world at the level of molecules and atoms — whether those are DNA molecules or gold nanowiring.

 
Sources:

Additional Resources:




The article first appeared here.

How to build your very own Self-Directed Immortality Avatar for 2045!

by 2045.com


International Manifesto of the "2045" Strategic Social Initiative

Mankind has turned into a consumer society standing at the edge of a total loss of the conceptual guidelines necessary for further evolution. The majority of people are almost exclusively absorbed  in merely maintaining their own comfortable lives.

Modern civilization, with its space stations, nuclear submarines, iPhones and Segways cannot save mankind from the limitations in the physical abilities of our bodies, nor from diseases and death.

We are not satisfied with modern achievements of scientific and technical progress. Science working for the satisfaction of consumer needs will not be able to ensure a technological breakthrough towards a radically different way of life.

We believe that the world needs a different ideological paradigm. Within its framework it is necessary to form a major objective  capable of pointing out a new direction for the development of all mankind and ensuring the achievement of a scientific and technical revolution.  The new ideology should assert, as one of its priorities, the necessity of using breakthrough technology for an improvement of man himself and not only of his environment.

We believe that it is possible and necessary to eliminate aging and even death, and to overcome the fundamental limits of the physical and mental capabilities currently set by the restrictions of the physical body.

Scientists from various countries in the world are already developing technology that ensures the creation of an artificial human body prototype within the next decade. We believe the biggest technological project of our times will become the creation of such artificial human body and a subsequent transfer of individual human consciousness to such a body.

Implementation of this technological project will inevitably result in an explosive development of innovations and global changes in our civilization and will improve human life.

We believe that before 2045 an artificial body will be created that will not only surpass the existing body in terms of functionality, but will achieve perfection of form and be no less attractive than the human body. People will make independent decisions about the extension of their lives and the possibilities for personal development in a new body after the resources of the biological body have been exhausted.

The new human being will receive a huge range of abilities and will be capable of withstanding extreme external conditions easily: high temperatures, pressure, radiation, lack of oxygen, etc. Using a neural-interface humans will be able to operate several bodies of various forms and sizes remotely.

We suggest the implementation of not just a mechanistic project to create an artificial body, but a whole system of views, values and technology which will render assistance to humankind in intellectual, moral, physical, mental and spiritual development.

We invite all interested specialists: scientists, politicians, mass media personalities, philosophers, futurologists and businessmen to join the "2045" strategic social initiative. We welcome all who share our vision of the future and are ready to make the next jump.


THE AVATAR R&D NETWORK OF THE 2045 INITIATIVE

[To the right of the main page, click on “Immortality Button”:  “Click this button to start the development of your personalized immortal Avatar”]

The main objectives of our movement are:

1. To achieve the support of the International community and create conditions for international co-operation of interested specialists around the "2045" Initiative.  

2. To create an international research center for cybernetic immortality to advance practical implementations of the main technical project – the creation of the artificial body and the preparation for subsequent transfer of individual human consciousness to such a body. 
 
3. To engage experts in the selection and support of the most interesting projects in the quest to ensure technological breakthroughs.

4. To support innovative industries and create special scientific education programs for schools and institutes of higher education.

5. To create educational programs for television, radio and internet, to hold forums, conferences, congresses and exhibitions, and to establish awards and produce books, movies and computer games with the view of raising the profile of the initiative and spreading its ideas.

6. To form a culture connected with the ideology of the future, promoting technical progress, artificial intellect, “multi-body”, immortality, and cyborgization.


REQUIREMENTS:


For the registration of your pre-order, please answer the following questions:

Are you 18 or older?

Are you of sound mind so as to bear legal responsibility for your actions?

Do you personally -- yourself or as legal representative -- dispose of the funds required for the development (> $3M) for your avatar?

Have you decided to commission the development of your custom-made immortal avatar?

If you answer “no” to a question, you cannot proceed further 

[Note:  Guess this is yet another way to de-populate the world -- Russian-style.  Note that the Russians charge in U.S. dollars! -- DNI]