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Introduction: Can We Make Life? (03:08)

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"Nova" investigates recent discoveries in science. Andre Fenton, Rana el Kaliouby, and Talithia Williams will examine new technology that allows scientists to manipulate D.N.A.

Reversing Evolution (03:57)

Beth Shapiro examines the genetic code of Ice Age animals found in Hot Springs, South Dakota. George Church wants to bring the woolly mammoth back to life. His plan includes implanting the creature's genes into the embryo of a live elephant.

Explaining D.N.A. (05:50)

Strings of the chemicals Adenine, Tyhmine, Cytosine, and Guanine form genes. Williams describes the history of controlling and manipulating D.N.A. began with engineering E. coli bacteria to produce insulin. At a biochemical lab Kristala Jones Prather alters microbes to make proteins and chemicals.

Genetic Experiment (04:56)

Kevin Esvelt attempts to exterminate Lyme disease on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Timothy Lepore uses antibiotics to eliminate the rash, fever, and joint pain; Sam Teleford catches ticks in a white furry cloth to study. The white-footed mouse carries the bacteria in its blood.

Eradicating Tick-Borne Disease (06:36)

Esvelt wants to eliminate Lyme disease by genetically altering the white-footed mouse using Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats Technology. CRISPR-Cas engineering is quicker, less expensive and easier. Vaccines are required because antibodies are not passed on to descendants.

Fear of Genetically-Modified Animals (01:54)

Williams discusses how the Cane Toad frog disrupted the eco-system and killed countless pets in Australia. Scientists discuss the potential ramifications to genetic engineering.

De-Extincting a Mammoth (03:59)

Church's studies include using pigs to grow organs for transplantation and bacterial D.N.A. to encode data. The scientist wants to allocate the Arctic Tundra to genetically-modified Asian Elephants. His team identifies mammoth "cold" genes, constructs them synthetically, and inserts them into living cells; elephants have a hard time conceiving and carrying a calf to term in captivity.

Studying Mammalian Egg Layers (01:55)

Church has not figured out how to hatch a baby woolly mammoth out of an egg. Scientists discuss ethical issues surrounding this form of genetic modification and potential ramifications to Asian elephants. Taking genes from the past and put them into existing endangered species is a tremendous tool for conservation.

Human Applications (05:12)

Williams discusses how clinical trials were stagnant after gene therapy killed Jesse Gelsinger. Dr. David Williams begins a trial on curing cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). Most families describe how a child of five or six begins to experience developmental problems; genetic mutation on ABCD1 affects microglial cells in the brain.

ALD Treatment (03:53)

Jerry Cookson is doing fine after a transplant from an unrelated donor and chemotherapy. Dr. Williams conducts a genetic therapy trial to save patients like Brian Rojas. Medical staff collects stem cells, inserts a healthy version of the gene using the H.I.V. virus, and re-infuse the patient.

Clinical Trial Results (02:39)

15 or the 17 complete the therapy and are now doing fine. The Cookson and Rojas family discuss the results. Because of Brandon, Brian was diagnosed early.

Designer Babies (03:03)

Scientists discuss the ethical issues and potential unintended consequences surrounding enhancing abilities by editing embryos. The U.S. Government will not fund research.

Nantucket Town Hall (04:44)

Esvelt worries that he does not know unintended consequences and assures the community of his slow approach. It will take 100,000 genetically modified mice to spread the Lyme-resistant gene. Scientists can drastically accelerate the engineering of our genes and ecosystems but cannot create life.

Credits: Can We Make Life? (01:06)

Credits: Can We Make Life?

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Part of the Series : NOVA: Wonders, Season 1
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Description

"It's alive!" Since Dr. Frankenstein spoke those famous words, we've been alternately enthralled and terrified by the idea of creating life in the lab. Now, a revolution in genetic engineering and thrilling innovations in synthetic biology are bringing that dream—or nightmare, as the case may be—closer to reality. New tools allow researchers to use cells to create their own DNA.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: FPT191965

Copyright date: ©2018

Closed Captioned

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