Our biotechnologies have entered uncharted territory. With the ability to precisely edit the human genome, we have the potential for systematic control over inheritance that goes beyond Darwinian evolution. Stem cells can be used to create embryo-like structures that may or may not develop as normal embryos do, and artificial brain-like organs grown in dishes raise questions about the fundamental definition of consciousness.
We should be prepared to be unsettled by these developments in what zoologist Jacques Loeb in 1890 called “a technology of living substance”. But although it is easy to spin dystopian tales out of them, any consideration of how to regulate these technologies and of their ethical and societal implications will be deepened and enriched by close attention to their historical and cultural dimensions.
Dr Philip Ball, winner of the 2022 Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal, joins us to discuss the importance of these debates, and of keeping historical and cultural perspectives visible and explicit.
The Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal and Lecture 2022 is awarded to Dr Philip Ball, for his outstanding commitments to sharing the social, cultural, and historical context of science through award-winning science communication in books, articles, and as a speaker and commentator.
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