Intelligent Re-Design?

This Week: The Nature of the Beast — with George Church and Antonio Regalado. Listen today at 2pm on WBUR or anytime on our website. We made a transcript for this one, too.

If you can stand a change of subject, the story we’re really stuck on these days is far from Washington or even North Korea; it’s here in our own backyard in the sprawling life sciences ecosystem in and around Kendall Square, Cambridge. CRISPR and gene editing is the story of the 21st century, says our guest, the biotech journalist Antonio Regalado. He helped Chris interview the scientist behind most of it, George Church, whom we’ve featured in the past. We’ve done two other shows on CRISPR, most recently one about the Chinese doctor who modified the embryos of a set of twins to make them immune to HIV, a story Antonio broke for the MIT Tech Review (and which he continues to update; two weeks ago Antonio reported that the same DNA alteration in the babies will likely enhance their cognition and memory).

George Church is in right in the middle of this action; you can’t quite call him a mad scientist because he’s so open and approachable and genuinely nice, but what he says and does is also completely terrifying. He’s a person who lives confidently in the future, and he’s not conflicted about the science of gene-editing. He’s all for it — for eradicating disease and for leveling the human playing field. If he can extend his own life, that’ll be fine too, and he’s serious about the need for a back-up planet and the ability (and necessity) of humans to safely colonize mars. Chris and Antonio pushed and probed throughout this hour-long conversation. It’s heavy!

George Church’s project to bring back the woolly mammoth is well known by now. Woolly is a distant cousin of the endangered Asian Elephant, and Church & co hope genetic research can help cure a virulent disease that threatens them, and then, once brought back to life, healthy herds might populate the arctic and prevent the melting of the permafrost (basically by walking around up there). For more, Ben Mezrich’s book The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures is terrific fun. And keep an eye out for the movie. Ben has told us he’d love Jeff Bridges to play George.

Conor found the music for this show, which we love. He says it came from John Dunn and M.A. Clarke. It’s Protein Music, made by converting protein strands into notes and sounds. Literally.

Imagine the mRNA to be like a long piece of magnetic recording tape, and the ribosome to be like a tape recorder. As the tape passes through the playing head of the recorder, it is “read” and converted into music, or other sounds…When a “tape” of mRNA passes through the “playing head” of a ribosome, the “notes” produced are amino acids and the pieces of music

Dig in here.

We hope this show will kick off a series of podcasts. We want to look at the history of biotech in Boston; we want to explore the philosophical questions raised by genetic science, the opposition to it among the “bioleft,” the commercial forces driving it, and we want to enlist as many people as we can to help us think further about the implications here. We’ll be sending this show around to dozens of scientists and big thinkers, so please help us and weigh in with your own thoughts. You can find us at

Coming Soon: Nietzsche & You

We went to visit our friend the writer and philosopher John Kaag in his Existence and Anxiety class at UMASS Lowell. It was Nietzsche day there, and boy are his students inspiring. What a privilege it was to listen to them share their thoughts and experiences. John’s recent book is called Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are and it’s wonderful.

Next Week—Come One, Come All: Valeria Luiselli

I love this book. Chris is interviewing Valeria on Tuesday night, March 5th, at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. Valeria has also written an important non-fiction book Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions about her experience interviewing and translating for young migrants.

Watch: High Flying Bird

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (and filmed on an iphone), and written by Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney, this film takes apart race, class, capitalism and sports in an intriguing way. What if the players, screwed over by owners and agents, could take control of the game and their own talents? The themes in the film were echoed last week at the MIT sports conference on a panel with Bill Simmons and former NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who talked about mental health challenges and issues throughout the game.

This ‘n That

For the record, Scott Hamrah, our guest on last week’s Oscars show, predicted the best picture and best actor awards. Just sayin’. Oliver Sacks (from the archives) on steam engines, smartphones and fearing the future. An excerpt from Daniel Immerwahr’s exciting new book, How To Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. Nathan Heller on life insurance and instagram. Edward Mendelson on George Hutchinson. Greg Grandin on nativism and foreign wars. Kate Aronoff on the Green New Deal—and which dems are blocking it and why.

That’s all for this week! Listen, share, and donate, if you will!

❤ the OS team



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Radio Open Source

Radio Open Source


An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.