Matthew reviews three books on gene editing

July 1, 2017 • 12:00 pm

Here’s a nice tweet:

New York Review of Books pieces aren’t often free, so it’s nice that this one, which has Matthew reviewing three books on biotechnology and genetics (list below), is available gratis at the link in the tweet. The books:

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution
by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 281 pp., $28.00

I reviewed the Doudna and Sternberg book in the Washington Post yesterday (in the paper edition tomorrow), and Matthew and I independently came up with the same assessment: it’s good and well worth reading.  He talks about something I didn’t, as I didn’t have the space: gene drives, a mechanism for spreading engineered “designer genes” through a species. It’s not only potentially dangerous per se, but could also be used for bioterrorism. See his piece for more discussion.

I haven’t read the other two books, but Matthew clearly feels that A Crack in Creation is the best of the lot, and I agree with him wholeheartedly when he says this:

In A Crack in Creation, one of the pioneers of this technique, the biochemist Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley, together with her onetime student Samuel Sternberg, describes the science behind CRISPR and the history of its discovery. This guidebook to the CRISPR revolution gives equal weight to the science of CRISPR and the profound ethical questions it raises. The book is required reading for every concerned citizen—the material it covers should be discussed in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country. Community and patient groups need to understand the implications of this technology and help decide how it should and should not be applied, while politicians must confront the dramatic challenges posed by gene editing.

It is indeed required reading. Read it!

15 thoughts on “Matthew reviews three books on gene editing

    1. @Craw As I’m thinking of buying the Kindle version of the Doudna/Sternberg book it would help me if you nailed down your comment somewhat!

      Which of the three books?
      A customer review by whom?

      I see for **DNA Is Not Destiny** that “Victor George” writes: The Kindle version I bought on May 17, 2017, compared to the audio version, has a small and insignificant gap in text on page 223 after the sentence that reads “For example, 23andMe … two disorders with devastating health outcome.”

    2. BTW Craw…

      You can ‘return’ Kindle books to Amazon & get a full refund. No exceptions. So I suggest you just buy it. On it’s within 14 days of purchase & on .com the buyer’s regret window is less, only 7 days

      HOW TO ‘RETURN’:

      Go to *Manage Your Content and Devices* at your Amazon site

      From *Your Content*, select the *Actions* button next to the title you want to return

      Select *Return for Refund* which activates a pop-up window

      Select *Return for Refund* in the pop-up


  1. Your review makes the case for basic scientific research in a newspaper read by the people that control government funding. Thank you for doing that.
    I remember Sen William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards that made fun of basic research with hard to explain human benefits. What a horrible jerk.

  2. A parenthetical remark of Matthew’s has me puzzled:

    What does a risk of 2.1 percent really mean? People have a hard time interpreting this kind of information and deciding how to change their lifestyle to reduce their chance of getting the disease, if such an option is available. (It is not for Parkinson’s.)

    If we know for certain that there are no lifestyle choices affecting our chances of developing Parkinson’s, that would seem to imply that the disease is purely genetically determined. So what does it mean to talk about a 2.1% risk? Either you have the constellation of genes that leads inevitably to the disease, or you don’t.

    Or if the disease is not inevitable, but is subject to environmental factors, then how can we rule out the possibility that lifestyle choices might play a role? Or is the claim that we just don’t yet know what the relevant choices might be?

  3. This is slightly off-topic. But we all know that tremendous court battles are taking place between Berkeley (where Doudna works) and the Broad Institute (MIT) over patents on CRISPR-Cas9. I’m curious to know from people in this line of work why they try to patent such things at all, rather than releasing them into the public domain. (My personal view is that one should not be able to patent living processes.) If all these excellent scientists (and one other) are so hot to patent, why? Is it for contractual reasons due to their employment by a university or institute which wants the loot to do more research? Or is for some baser reason? Seems to me a kind of gentlemen’s agreement should handle that nicely.

    Anyway, Matthew’s review was spot-on and I”m already reading Doudna’s book.

    1. Just read Jerry’s review. As he says, “Finally, let us remember that it was not so long ago that university scientists refused to enrich themselves in this way…” That partially answers my question. Couldn’t agree more with his conclusion: “The satisfaction of scientific curiosity should be its primary reward.”

  4. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in the 1950s and never filed for a patent. For those who are too young to know or remember, polio was the plague of my generation. In 1952, polio killed 3,145 people and killed 21,269 in the United States. As a child, we were never permitted to go to the movie theater or swimming in a public pool during August for fear of polio.

    Salk led the campaign for mandatory vaccination. Questioned about a patent for the Salk vaccine, he said, “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

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