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The Code Breakers by Walter Isaacson

Have you heard of CRISPR?

(clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their contributions in the development of a method for genome editing.

It’s called the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.

Based on how bacteria fights off virus attackers, in future CRISPR will be used to fight coronavirus variations.

Click PLAY or see how it works on YouTube.

Most people my age know about Watson and Crick’s discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. But I certainly couldn’t explain anything about CRISPR before reading this book.

Once again, Walter Isaacson made a complex story entertaining with this 2021 biography:

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

The bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs returns with a gripping account of how Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched a revolution that will allow us to cure diseases, fend off viruses, and have healthier babies.

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.

The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code. …

After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.

simon and schuster

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

The first half of the book is the story. Very entertaining.

Then it gets better.

A detailed look at the drama over WHO wins the awards. WHO gets the patents.

Of course there are many other scientists who could have and should be lauded for breakthroughs in this field. They are covered in the biography, as well.

Most worthy — perhaps — is Feng Zhang. But he and his boss Eric Lander come off as BAD GUYS in this book, unethical in their collaborations.

ONE bit of good news. When COVID-19 was announced early 2020, both Zhang’s and Doudna’s companies changed research priorities towards developing CRISPR-based coronavirus tests. Both were successful and both hope to make simple at-home tests ready for market in 2021: Sherlock and Mammoth.

The most entertaining of the CRISPR giants is geneticist George Church. When the movie is made, he’ll be the fan favourite.

Emmanuelle Charpentier is an intriguing personality, as well. I’d read her biography.

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