I am inviting you to a dinner party – where you are the host.
You can invite whomever you’d like: your family, friends, co-workers, book club members, etc. The preparation is extremely simple. I promise the conversation will be passionate. You’ll explore the most important issue of our lives one course and one discussion topic at a time.
The theme of your dinner is “getting ready for the genetics revolution” and the background reading can be my new book Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity. If you and your guests don’t have time to read the book, you can use this short article instead. Whatever you choose, you will be bringing your community into the critical conversation about how we can best use our powerful new genetic technologies in ways that optimize the great potential for good while minimizing the dangers.
Within a decade, most everyone will realize the existential questions of how we manage the genetics and AI revolutions, prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons, and tackle climate change are everyone’s business. But if we all aren’t informed participants now making sure our best values are part of the solution, our ignorance and inaction will become part of the problem. You can help prevent that!
In one dinner, you can have a great time, spark an incredible conversation, and make a real contribution. Gourmet Olympics this is not but prep time is under 30 minutes!
Here’s the plan:
- Dish: Corn on the cob
- Preparation: Leave corn in husks. Wet thoroughly under the faucet. Place in microwave for 8 minutes on high. Let cool then peel off husks. Add butter and salt to taste. (See this link for more.)
- Background: Nine thousand years ago, there was no corn, only a weed called teosinte with a few kernels. Native American communities domesticated and bred this weed into what we call corn today.
- Conversation questions: What does it mean for something to be natural? Is corn natural? Does the application of human ingenuity to the world around us make something unnatural? How should we define what is and isn’t “natural?” Is this distinction even important?
- Dish: egg and bean sprouts salad
- Preparation: use this recipe to hard boil eggs and this recipe for bean sprouts salad. Please a full egg on each plate with alfalfa sprouts sprinkled around the egg in a circle.
- Background: Sexual reproduction is about 1.2 billion years old but it’s always been changing. The recent revolutions in healthcare, prenatal nutrition, IVF, and embryo screening have massively expanded our ability to apply science to procreation. We are now beginning a new phase in the evolution of how we procreate where we will use our knowledge of genetics to select and then alter pre-implanted embryos.
- Conversation question: If you could genetically engineer your future children (through advanced embryo selection and gene editing) would you? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Dish: Impossible Burgers
- Preparation: Pick up Impossible Burgers at your local grocery store and heat per instructions. (If not available, please replace with something easy.)
- Background: Impossible burgers are not “natural” in a traditional sense of the word. But how natural is it that our dietary habits are destroying the environment and wasting valuable resources while many around the world go hungry? Sometimes applying radical science can be a good thing. But even if you are open to the idea of genetically altering your future children, you won’t be able to just pick option like visiting the build-a-bear store. As I described in my New York Times editorial, you’ll need to articulate your priorities.
- Conversation questions: If you decide to genetically engineer your future children though advanced embryo selection and limited gene editing, what would you select for and in what order of priority?
- Dish: Cookies
- Preparation: Buy cookies at your favorite bakery, pick them up at the store, or bake them. Bonus points if you put a frosting DNA double helix on the cookies you bake (or you can order them on Etsy!).
- Background: Everyone loves cookies but some feel they are unhealthy and addictive (and most of us agree but love cookies anyway). People like different types of cookies because we are all different. When we think about the ethical issues surrounding human genetic engineering, we also have different views.
- Conversation question: What values do you feel should guide our use (or non-use) of genetic technologies and why?
- Dish: Tapioca in plastic test tubes
- Preparation: Prepare tapioca pudding from mix using instructions on the box. Pour into test tubes and seal before refrigeration. Serve when cool. (Here‘s an Amazon link to the test tubes.)
- Background: IVF was once seen as radical science but now has fully normalized. Over six million “test tube babies” now live among us and our species is moving toward the end of procreative sex. What seems crazy today can often become normal tomorrow. Although some transhumanists believe the science of human genetic engineering should be left unregulated, this is not a justifiable position. We must regulate these powerful technologies — but the question is how.
- Conversation questions: What restriction should governments place on people’s ability to genetically engineer their future children? How can these regulations find the right balance between promoting the beneficial application of these technologies and preventing abuses?
I’d love to hear about your experience. After your dinner, I hope you’ll share your key thoughts on the Hacking Darwin global forum website and on your social media.