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The hunt for our genetic past 

Genesis 2.0
Regissør: Christian Frei Maxim Arbugaev
(Sveits)

In Genesis 2.0 we follow Siberian hunters in search of animal carcasses buried in the Siberian permafrost. If only one living cell can be retrieved from here, the artificial reconstruction of the mammoth can become a reality.   

(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)

"God's word is still not perfect, but if we work together, we can make God perfect." 

This is just one of many provocative statements from one of the leaders of the Earth BioGenome Project, the largest ongoing project to decode the DNA structures of all living things.

The Chinese BioGenome laboratory is involved in one of the most complex and pioneering challenges in scientific research of our time: the complete digital copy of life itself. 3000 decoded genome structures per year is the goal, a goal that will be realized in the near future. The market price for a decoded genome is today at 1000 euros. Around 2 millions of individual copies have already been tested and archived. 

Christian Freis Genesis 2.0 – who has also received the Sundance Special Jury Award for international documentary – begins with caution with natural landscapes as a backdrop. But the social criticism the film offers should not be underestimated.  

Dangerous travel through Siberian waters

The camera follows a group of hunters in search of mammoth support teeth in high, distant northern Siberia. Every day, they risk their lives during a dangerous boat trip across the icy sea on their way to New Zealand. Here, the melting permafrost releases a high number of these magnificent prehistoric animals. All of the men are marked by isolation and loneliness, a result of having to spend months at a time in this hostile area. They risk life for a few hundred dollars. The big profit ends up in the pockets of middlemen, who also push the film team to stop filming as the support teeth are handed over to them. 

The genetic sequences that create Down syndrome have already been identified and can be isolated and removed at the prenatal stage.

Maxim Arbugaev – Christian Frei's partner and co-director of Genesis 2.0 – spent an entire season with the hunters to document their daily lives. The hunters' relentless digging in the frozen earth arouses associations to addiction. A single well-preserved mammoth horn can cover their modest expenses for several years. But the hunt seems damned. A narrative voice tells of myths, legends, strange horror stories and old songs about the fate of those who dare to touch the sacred animals' carcasses. 

Arbugaev and Frei are present in two contradictory realities – one in distant nature, the other in a world of high-tech genetic research – but communicate constantly by email. The documentary creates an elegant connection between the two worlds. The animal carcasses, sometimes intact, rarely release fluid or even blood after being dug out of the permafrost. If only one living cell can be extracted from here, the artificial reconstruction of a living mammoth will be possible.  

Writes new DNA codes

Dr. George Church of Harvard Medical School, one of the major figures in genetic engineering today, systematically pursues the idea of ​​planting a mammary cell in the womb of an elephant to realize the mammoth's resurrection. Thousands of other "interventions" are being carried out by a large, and growing, number of studies and experiments around the world. For $ 100, for example, a much-loved pet can be recreated from a single cell from the original. However, this is only a small adrenal gland that is already practiced daily in other laboratories, such as in South Korea's Sooam Biotech. in 000 with only five participating teams. In 2004, 2007 teams participated, and in 32 the figure was up to 2016 – with around 300 actively involved students. George Church not only wants to clone, but to create, a new animal: a hybrid cold-resistant and wool-haired mammoth. To emphasize the researchers' practical approach, Arbugaev and Frei show images of already created hybrids, such as mixtures of horses and zebras. All are viable, laboratory-created animals.  

Challenging questions remain unanswered

Beyond this experimental biology touch Genesis 2.0 the ultimate challenge. Today's synthetic biotechnology does not limit itself to reading DNA codes, but intends to write them yourself. 

Creating living beings on order is the real ambition, and Homo sapiens is surely the aim of this effort. For example, the genetic sequences that create Down syndrome are already identified and can be isolated and removed at the prenatal stage. 

The filmmakers are present in two contradictory realities – one in the distant nature, the other in a world of high-tech genetic research,

Avoiding illness is of course the main reason for this rapidly expanding science, which in the not too distant future will be able to create different abilities, emotional dispositions and intelligence levels. The horrifying vision of prefabricated children, created according to their parents' investment capacity – this, of course, will not be cheap – suddenly becomes frighteningly real. We can easily imagine children who in the future will sue their parents for not investing enough in their genetic equipment. 

Genesis 2.0 is an important work on contemporary cultural and future perspectives pointing to the coming apocalypse for human life. Human beings will be transformed into synthetic bodies and minds, neurologically modified and expanded with implanted components that act as remote controlling information receivers. Can anyone still avert this future? And is anyone willing to do that?

Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a critic living in Paris.

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