By PHILLIP THURTLE and CLAUDIA X. VALDES
We grew up in an era of nuclear fear and nuclear promise. On one hand, specters of mushroom clouds, the blinding white light of an explosive flash, and civil defense drills haunted the psyche of the late twentieth century. On the other hand, politicians and scientists promised the benefits of the peaceful atom, where atomic power could be safely harnessed, and new imaging techniques would stimulate biomedical research.1 Humans had found a way to tap into the awesome power of the atom; anything seemed possible except to continue as we once had.
One of the outcomes of atomic war was the increased threat of mutation of all living beings. It was widely accepted that atomic radiation could damage chromosomes, which comprised the scaffolding for and tissue of the genes, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that many in the medical field came to accept the role of mutation in some diseases.2 Many scientists looked upon mutation as a risky promise, much like atomic power itself, where the power dormant in the gene could be utilized if properly managed. Mutations could lead to beneficial organic change, but only under rare circumstances. One could easily unlock these mutated futures, but unless one could learn to explore the unimaginable, most of the futures one would unlock were bleak, if not apocalyptic.