Jack Heal: Do Scientists Dream of Synthetic Sheep?

The answer we get from Jack Heal to the question of his show’s title is that, not only do scientists dream of genetically engineered sheep, but they are actively pursuing how to create one. And it’s not just sheep in their sights – everything from individual cells to Pyrenean ibex to wooly mammoths have been subject of scrutiny from synthetic biologists. The show is aimed at the uninitiated and is a lively primer on everything going on in a field that is becoming more and more prominent in mainstream culture.

If you have any sort of curiosity into the issues surrounding modern biological sciences then it is worth seeking this out.

The show is billed as a comedy but that’s not what it sets out to be (for anyone interested, Dr Heal does have a standup show at this year’s Fringe, Frankenstein’s Love Monster). For the purposes of ceremony, Heal does treat us to a few jokes from his other set at the top of the talk, but from there it’s into a discussion about just what is happening in the world of synthetic biology, and some of the more common misconceptions about the discipline. As you can expect, the Jurassic Park series seems to have had a large role in affecting people’s notions about genetic engineering, but, alas, Heal explains it is unlikely that anyone is ever going to reanimate a dinosaur.

Far from being a sort of mundane lecture, the show has more of a university seminar feel to it, with the audience encouraged to ask questions and comment on various issues. Heal is an enthusiastic host, navigating us first through a broad outline of what synthetic biology is and what its applications are, before going on to highlight some of the recent internal conflicts between the science’s leading figures.

One thing that I think would enhance the show is more of a probe into some of the ethical issues that face the subject. Heal brings up the sometimes subliminal (sometimes blatant!) accusations of scientists ‘playing god’ but it’s never really discussed in depth. But then again, maybe that is asking for too much detail of an hour-long talk.

You get the impression that the show would be much more at home in one of those nice, carpeted, seminar rooms dotted around George Square rather than the top floor of a nightclub. But if you have any sort of curiosity into the issues surrounding modern biological sciences then it is worth seeking this out. 

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The Blurb

Can we resurrect a mammoth? What happens when you cross a spider with a goat? Dr Jack Heal, comedian and scientist, explores the world of synthetic biology.