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Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Promise and Peril

A medical student sits at a computer terminal using virtual reality equipment to virtually dissect anatomical models.
The University of California, San Diego, teaches anatomy to medical students in part through the Anatomic VisulizeR©, a computer program that lets students 'dissect' virtual anatomical models of various organs. The models are derived from the National Library of Medicine's Visible Human Male. Courtesy of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

They may come up with a disease that can't be cured, even a monster. Is this the answer to Dr. Frankenstein's dream?

The time was the early 1970s. The speaker was the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, warning against a proposed DNA laboratory at Harvard University. Today, we almost expect to hear references to "Frankenstein" — whether monster, scientist, novel, film, image, or myth is often unclear — whenever some powerful new technology poses risk to humankind or challenges our ideas of what it means to be human. The atomic bomb, interspecies organ transplants, genetic engineering, and cloning, among many others, have each prompted such warnings; Mary Shelley's hideous brainchild continues to embody and express our fears.