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Lunch » Tags » Untagged » The Genome War: How Craig Venter Tried to Capture the Code of Life and Save the World » User review

Candid and informative look at the race for one of the greatest scientific milestones

  • Nov 9, 2009
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+5
The decoding of the entire human DNA has been rightly considered the most important scientific achievement of the start of end of twentieth and the beginning of twenty-first century. The Human Genome, as the complete DNA information is know, is a vast, complicated information resource that is essentially a digital instruction book on how to build a human organism. The promise for all of human biology in understanding such an important repository of information is enormous. It has the potential to completely and irrevocably alter how biology and medicine are done. Ever since the epochal discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, we had understood that genes are nothing else but the long strands of DNA molecule that code for particular proteins. At the same time the sheer size of the entire genome became obvious, and it seemed like it will be at least another century before we are able to decode it in its entirety. However, with passing of years our technology became ever more sophisticated and it started to look increasingly plausible that the decoding of the whole genome of single species was within the reach. Slowly a consortium of government-funded and academic labs started to form, with their eyes on the most important genome of them all: that of Homo Sapiens. However, in the late nineteen-nineties a powerful challenge to the government's project was launched from the private sector. Led by Craig Venter, "Celera Genomics" promised to map the entire human genome much faster than the government-sponsored consortium could, and presumably for a much more affordable price - it would certainly cost nothing to the taxpayers. Instead of buckling down, the government project decided to redouble its own effort and as a consequence the race for the primacy was born.

This book tells us about that race. It is primarily written from the point of view of Craig Venter, one of the most unique and controversial living scientists. He truly has really lead a very unusual scientific career, and had he achieved far less than the success with mapping the human genome it would have been still worthwhile to read his story. The narrative in this book is very compelling, and we get a lot of detail in how scientists go about their business, what it takes to assemble a World-class team for an enormously complex project, and how personal interactions and healthy egos make the actual path to scientific discovery much more messy than we would have otherwise thought. In real world there are no true dispassionate searchers for truth - ambition and all other basic human motivators are present and important. This book does a really good job of exposing these considerations and waving them all together in an enjoyable and readable story.

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review by . November 09, 2009
The decoding of the entire human DNA has been rightly considered the most important scientific achievement of the start of end of twentieth and the beginning of twenty-first century. The Human Genome, as the complete DNA information is know, is a vast, complicated information resource that is essentially a digital instruction book on how to build a human organism. The promise for all of human biology in understanding such an important repository of information is enormous. It has the potential to …
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Bojan Tunguz ()
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I am a benevolent rascal. I love lounging in bed on a Sunday morning. Rainy days make me melancholy, but in a good kind of way. I am an incorrigible chocoholic. I hate Mondays, but I get over it by Wednesday. … more
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In May 1998, biologist Craig Venter announced that he was founding a company, Celera, that would sequence the genome by 2001, scooping the government's Human Genome Project by four years. This inflammatory announcement sparked a race that was as much about scientific ego and public recognition as about unlocking the so-called book of life. Shreeve (Nature) focuses on the tensions between academia and industry, and the rancor that ensued when Venter, who had previously headed a nonprofit research institute, changed camps. The synthesis of business and science posed new questions: can one patent the entire genome? if so, is protection of intellectual property antithetical to the advance of science? Industry is controlled by the bottom line; academia is chained to the politicians who control funding. Both models must battle a public that doesn't understand the intricacies of the research. Add to this the race to make one of the ultimate discoveries, and you get a mudslinging battle of egos. To back this up, Shreeve gives a healthy dose of the molecular biology involved in clear and vivid terms. He gives readers a fly-on-the-wall view of the scientific posturing and agonizing work behind the revelation of the genome's sequence. Shreeve is more concerned with providing a good yarn than answering the questions these events provokes, and the narrative meanders at times, but it gives a compelling look at the politics and business interests that drive science.
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