Davies skims over the how-to details but does discuss the future implications of “genomics” for medicine, anthropology,...

READ REVIEW

CRACKING THE GENOME

INSIDE THE RACE TO UNLOCK HUMAN DNA

A reprise of the saga to map and sequence the human genome by the savvy founding editor of Nature Genetics.

Davies spotlights the role of J. Craig Venter, whose private firm Celera was both goad and thorn in the flesh to the federal Human Genome Project, headed by Francis Collins. HGP was a collaborative enterprise involving major labs in the US, UK, and other leading countries, with agreed-upon rules against patenting human genes and requiring the release of all sequence data to the public. Celera, billed as an information corporation, agreed to release data quarterly and seek patents on only a few hundred “novel gene systems.” The bone of contention between Venter and Collins lay in their radically different approaches to gene sequencing. The HGP program aimed to map the genome first, and only afterwards to clone and sequence it. Venter’s approach was “shotgun”—blast the whole DNA molecule into myriad fragments and use high-powered sequencing machines to read off the bases, then reassemble the bits and pieces using a sophisticated computer program. This approach, added to Venter’s earlier disputed techniques while still an NIH scientist, outraged the old guard and their disciples—but they were proved wrong when Venter completed the sequencing of the genome of a disease bacterium and a fruit fly. The author chronicles the rage and fear that colored the contenders in what clearly became a race, egged on by the media. In the end, it was the intervention of more than one behind-the-scenes senior scientist and public official that led to a “tie” in the race: a joint announcement this year at the White House that the feds and private enterprise had together forged a working draft of the human genome.

Davies skims over the how-to details but does discuss the future implications of “genomics” for medicine, anthropology, ethics, and evolution. His forte, however, lies in his admirable narration of how science and scientists work in the real world—and what a debt is owed to technology.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-0479-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more