Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA

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9780801871405: Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA

In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick unveiled the double helix structure of DNA. The discovery was a profound moment in the history of science, but solving the structure of the genetic material did not reveal what the human genome sequence actually was, or what it says about who we are. Cracking the code of life would take another half a century.

In 2001, two rival teams of scientists shared the acclaim for sequencing the human genome. Kevin Davies, founding editor of Nature Genetics, has relentlessly followed the story as it unfolded week by week since the dawn of the Human Genome Project in 1990. Here, in rich human and scientific detail, is the compelling story of one of the greatest scientific feats ever accomplished: the sequencing of the human genome.

In brilliant, accessible prose, Davies captures the drama of this momentous achievement, drawing on his own genetics expertise and on interviews with the key scientists. Davies details the fraught rivalry between the public consortium, chaperoned by Francis Collins, and Celera Genomics, directed by sequencer J. Craig Venter. And in this newly updated edition, Davies sheds light on the secrets of the sequence, highlighting the myriad ways in which genomics will impact human health for the generations to come.

Cracking the Genome is the definitive, balanced account of how the code that holds the answer to the origin of life, the evolution of humanity, and the future of medicine was finally broken.

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Review:

What makes science happen? The confluence of politics, commerce, and the age-old quest for knowledge is nowhere better seen than in the ongoing Human Genome Project. Kevin Davies, founding editor of Nature Genetics, picks apart the personalities and technologies involved in the great sequence race in Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA. Written not long after President Clinton's premature announcement in 2000 of the Project's completion, it assesses the state of public and private genomic knowledge during what Davies calls "halftime." He is in a unique observational position; as a prominent scientific journalist, he has had unparalleled access to the scientific figures involved. Through interviews with HGP director Francis Collins, rogue scientist-entrepreneur J. Craig Venter, and many other scientists and insiders, Davies illuminates the often-tortured processes that contributed to the speedy sequencing of most--but not quite all--of our genes in just a few short years. Shifting styles characterize the different storylines: technological, political, and intensely personal tales unite under the author's direction without ever alienating the reader. The book is a bit softer on Venter than many scientists (who may perceive him as traitorous or, worse, too hasty to publish) would like, taking the position that his shotgun approach and competitive spirit improved the project without sacrificing quality. Conversely, Davies sits out the gene-patenting controversy, offering all sides a fairly equal voice, but never quite finding sympathy with any of them. Summing up his subject, Davies reports:

If the double helix is the prevailing image of the twentieth century, just as the steam engine signified the nineteenth century, then the sequence--the vast expanse of 3 billion As, Cs, Gs, and Ts--is destined to define the century to come.... The childhood of the human race is about to come to an end.

These are strong words, but few other fields provide a stronger basis for such hope. Cracking the Genome gives us the chance to catch up with the present while the future races on. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Kevin Davies is the founding editor of Nature Genetics and is currently editor-in-chief of Bio·IT World. He graduated from Oxford University and holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of London.

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