Brave new world

GENETICALLY modified babies sound like the stuff of science fiction, but China’s Sun Yat-sen University claimed last year to have created the first GM human embryo.

In the United States, germinal editing is the preferred term, and scientists say designer babies are no longer a fantasy as they push for greater freedom to further their research.

WA Academy of Performing Arts graduates Jessica Russell, Phoebe Sullivan and Sean Crofton tackle the controversial topic in their play, Blueprint.

Russell and Sullivan previously explored the subject of germinal editing in their WAAPA play Rocket Man, but Blueprint delves much deeper, exploring the miasma of ethics around messing with human DNA.

• Phoebe Sullivan, Sean Crofton and Jessica Russell in Blueprint. Photo by Marshall Stay

In the play, Earth is dying and on the brink of a mass exodus, so three everyday people sign up to a program designed to churn out mission-ready astronauts in record time.

But there’s a catch: the bodies they go in with may not be the same as the ones they come out with.

“We can’t maintain life in space unless we genetically modify ourselves,” Sullivan says.

The play invites the audience to imagine a world where nothing is impossible, based on current, and ongoing science that promises a new and better world.

Ethics and science collide in an exploration of what it means to be human: “You can cure all disease, but can you create a better person?” Sullivan asks.

• Phoebe Sullivan, Jessica Russell and Sean Crofton in Blueprint. Photo by Marshall Stay

The lure of human GM is the eradication of diseases such as cancer and Huntington’s disease, something few parents wouldn’t jump at.

But what about rich people using it to guarantee a child of superior intellect?

“An argument we bring up in the show, which is super conflicting,” Sullivan says.

Theatre should highlight the human impulse towards self destruction, she says.

“We don’t try to leave the audience with answers…but we do touch on big issues.”

Is the 21-year-old worried about her generation’s future?

“I fluctuate between the universal and the personal…but I have to live my life,” Sullivan says.

Blueprint is at the Blue Room, James Street, Northbridge until June 24.

by JENNY D’ANGER

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