Podcast Idea: Finding RP11

A podcast about the hunt for one man's genes who changed the world.

Description: Today you can get your genes sequenced (at least a bunch of them) for under $100. What you might not know is that the modern genetic free-for-all was made possible by a $5 billion scientific moonshot called The Human Genome Project. For years, scientists worked day and night to determine which genes made us people rather than bananas or fruit flies. To figure that out, used donated genetic material. And by some strange coincidence, about 70 percent of the “reference genome” for this world-changing project came from one, individual, anonymous donor. A man who at the time lived in Buffalo, New York. Someone who is now referred to RP11. This is a show about trying to find him.

Host: Dr. Janina Jeff (host of In Those Genes)*

Executive Producer: Rose Eveleth**

Comps: Mystery Show meets Science VS.

Sample Episode 1: Here’s what we know: RP11 was a man, who lived in Buffalo, New York. We also know that he likely had at least 50% “African ancestry.” Which may or may not mean, he was Black. On this episode we examine how we know what we know about RP11, and lay out our plan to find him.

Sample Episode 2: How did the Human Genome Project get RP11’s genes in the first place? We revisit the newspaper ad that the early project placed, trace the somewhat unlikely source of data for the project, and explain what the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has to do with any of this.

Sample Episode 3: Should we even be searching for RP11? What are the ethics of trying to find someone who has always been anonymous. Does he want to stay that way for a reason? Will this episode invalidate the rest of the podcast? Only time will tell!

The rest of the show will unfold as we search for RP11, his family, and see if he knows about how his genes helped change the world.

Audience: People who loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and understanding science through a little bit of a hunt for information.


If you have a podcast idea that you’d like to see me turn into a Podcast Idea, send it my way! rose.eveleth@protonmail.com, or just reply to this email.


Bonus Podcast From Twitter

* Hosts and guests have not signed on in any way. I’m making stuff up here!

** This newsletter is for fun. Ideas belong to their initial creator, credited here as Executive Producer. Don’t be a dick and don’t steal these ideas. If you love a show, and really want to get it made, get in touch with the person who came up with it.

Long live independent podcasts. Long live bad ideas.

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