[LMB] OT: "All wealth is biological" in modern-day science

alayne at twobikes.ottawa.on.ca alayne at twobikes.ottawa.on.ca
Fri Dec 3 03:35:40 GMT 2021

This week I finished listening to the audiobook of _The Code Breaker: 
Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race_ by Walter 

It's about Doudna's co-discovery of CRISPR and how that led to being able 
to reasonably straightforwardly edit the human genome, and then to 
Doudna's Nobel Prize in October 2020.

First of all, despite the fact that the narrator of this audiobook is 
good, I would recommend reading rather than listening to the book because 
it's very long, fairly involved with a large cast of characters and a bit 
rambling, and would be easier to concentrate on as a book rather than an 

What Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier and their collaborators discovered 
was how bacteria used stored strings of RNA and several enzymes to match 
and then destroy attacking viruses by matching the viruses' RNA. They 
figured out how to use this technique to match and cut up and reassemble 
arbitrary strings of RNA.

A couple years later, several different labs including Doudna's expanded 
this technique (in particular figuring out how to get inside the nucleus 
of a cell) to be able to edit DNA. A few years later there was the Chinese 
scientist who decided to edit human DNA and produce two baby girls...

The book also goes into the possible good (cure sickle cell anemia; turn 
off cancer metastasizing genes) with the bad (develop new bio-weapons; make 
horrible mistakes) and ethically unclear (designer babies that might 
reduce the diversity of the human race).

Near the end he talks about how CRISPR technology was used by Doudna and 
others to develop more accurate COVID-19 tests.

It's an interesting book, both in how it shows the connections among 
scientists and the importance of working together as opposed to vicious 
competition (tho there's certainly that too re patents), and how it 
discusses setting limits on this research.

Doudna was actually inspired to become a scientist by reading The Double 
Helix by Watson and Crick and the book gets into the latter-day James 
Watson as well.

The author strongly implies that biological sciences will overtake 
computers as the new technological frontier for bright youngsters -- which 
enthralled and scared the hell out of me.


Alayne McGregor
alayne at twobikes.ottawa.on.ca

What we need is a tough new kind of feminism with no illusions. ... We
need a kind of feminism that aims not just to assimilate into the
institutions that men have created over the centuries, but to infiltrate
and subvert them. -- Barbara Ehrenreich

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