FRENCH DNA by Paul Rabinow


Trouble in Purgatory
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The dated story of a genetics research endeavor in the early 1990s as recounted by anthropologist Rabinow (UC Berkeley). The author was invited to spend part of 1994 at the Centre d‘Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH), a genetics research laboratory in Paris, just as the group was about to form a collaborative effort with an American venture-capital-funded company, Millenium Pharmaceuticals. Unlike American start-up companies, French companies have to struggle harder to be listed on stock exchanges, at least until they prove themselves profitable. The CEPH needed a new influx of capital to continue to grow and fund new research. In the early 90s the CEPH had successfully tackled the problem of mapping the human genome, a project also taken on by the NIH and DOE in the US. They had also used a novel (to the French) technique for raising money, the tÇlÇthon. Rabinow begins with the disorganized director of the CEPH, Daniel Cohen, and the details of his decision-making policies and the inner politics of the CEPH. He presents scientists asked to join the CEPH on the basis of little more than an idea that their work might someday be valuable. In one case, a newcomer shows up one morning “only to realize abruptly, and to his dismay, that Cohen had not informed anyone at the CEPH about him.” Interspersed with the first-hand accounts of day-to-day activities are discussions of bioethics, background on DNA research, and the search for single genomes that correspond to heriditary disease. Throughout, Rabinow includes enough French to make you think about consulting a phrasebook. Part play-by-play of the internal struggles of a prominent genetics research facility in France, part abstract philosophical debate on genetic issues, this half-baked case study meanders too far off course for its narrative aspirations.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-70150-6
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999