DNA, (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a double-helix shaped molecule that contains information about a person’s genetic information (hair color, height, skin tone, etc.) Knowing a person’s DNA genome sequence would be a breakthrough in science, in fact, this is what the documentary, Cracking the Code of Life was about.
The movie covered two main groups that were involved in researching genetic codes, both racing to be the first to decode a full human genome. One of the groups, The Human Genome Project, was funded by the government and was devoted to decoding nitrogenous base pairs in order to provide information for genetic testing. The opposing group, Celera, is a private research company that also shared the motivation to decode a full human genome, but intended on selling the researched information for a profit.
The rigorous competition resulted in quicker progress among both companies. Craig Venter, the face behind Celera, was able to find a much more efficient way of decoding genes than the techniques used in the Human Genome Project. Geneticists from the Human Genome Project used a technique called Gene mapping, where the geneticists would manually identify and write each nitrogenous base by hand, which was a very monotonous and time consuming process. On the other hand, Craig Venter was able to contact a company that created a machine that virtually decoded the genes. In response, the Human Genome Project decided to use more advanced technology to speed up their decoding process as well. I do not want to give away which company was able to finish decoding a full human genome first…you must watch the movie yourself to find out who wins! 🙂
Another feature of this movie is the exploration of various genetic diseases. The movie interviewed various families with members who have genetic disorders. Some of the disorders and diseases mentioned were Tay Sachs and Cystic Fibrosis. Genetic Disease, Tay Sachs slowly destroys a baby’s brain and may lead to blindness, deafness, muscle weakness, seizures, and is often very fatal. The movie told an in depth, heart wrenching story of a child with Tay Sachs disease. Seeing the families situation of having a child with Tay Sachs made me think about how genetic testing could have prevented this. The movie also gives an overview of Cystic fibrosis, a fatal genetic disorder which affects the lungs and causes respiratory problems. A woman named Toni Robbins has the disorder, except a mutation in her DNA was able to fight Cystic Fibrosis and ultimately saved her life. Toni Robbins’s situation made me intrigued to know if there was a possible cure to other genetic disorders by manipulating DNA similar to Toni’s.
Although limitless information about genetic testing may be beneficial, ethical issues also surface about manipulating Human DNA. Many may agree that understanding and then changing genes may be advantageous and lead to healthier people, however, modifying genes (even for benefit) does seem a bit unnatural. Personally, I believe that genetic testing should be made accessible to the public, but information about altering a human genome should be used very, very carefully.
Overall, I enjoyed watching Cracking the Code of life and am interested to if genetic testing becomes more commonly used in the near future. I also highly recommend watching the movie, when watching, I suggest you decide what your stance is on genetic testing and genetic modification!