Saint Helena Virtual Forum
Hacking Darwin: Rebooting Disappearing Species
A conversation with Dr. Beth Shapiro about biodiversity, de-extinction, and ethically reinventing nature to save the planet
Links to the Webcast
The recent Saint Helena Forum webcast streamed the evening of May 25th.
It can still be seen on YouTube
It can also be viewed on this website at
Dr. Beth Shapiro, American evolutionary molecular biologist, gave us a brief but fascinating look into her world. Beth is a Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Shapiro's work has centered on the analysis of ancient DNA.
Her recent book "Life as We Made It: How 50,000 Years of Human Innovation Refined – and Redefined – Nature" is a Times Best Book of 2021.
Beth is also recognized for her earlier book "How to Clone a Mammoth." (Before anyone gets too excited, she notes in an early chapter of that book that the process would first require a living wooly mammoth for which we are 3,000 years too late.)
Evolution is a random walk through experimental space. Evolution doesn’t care what the next generation looks like or even if the next generation survives, but we do. Evolution is not guiding horses or wheat or cattle or bison to any particular fate, but we are. And this is where the contradiction in our opposition to our biotechnologies is laid bare. We resist biotechnologies precisely because they give us the control over evolution that humans have continuously worked to achieve. Evolution will not get us to a future that we predetermine. Our biotechnologies, however, can. Beth Shapiro
Dr. Shapiro was interviewed by David Freed. Mr. Freed is a screenwriter, author of the Amazon- and Audible- best-selling, Cordell Logan mystery-thriller novels, and a former investigative journalist for The Los Angeles Times. He served as The Times' lead police reporter, was an individual finalist for the Pulitzer Prize’s Gold Medal for Public Service, the most prestigious award in American journalism, and shared in a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper’s coverage of the 1992 Rodney King riots.
Humans have been manipulating the organisms around them for tens of thousands of years. We learned to transform these animals, as well as the cereals and fruits that we gathered, into better versions of themselves. Over the last 50,000 years, we transformed the plants and animals with which we share our planet into lineages that are exquisitely adapted to today’s world, where the dominant evolutionary force is us.