Walter Isaacson’s new biography, “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” was an excellent primer on the latest developments as well as the history of genetics and recent advances in biology and medical research involving changes in genetics to fight disease.
While the book centers around Jennifer Doudna, the pioneering scientist who was at the forefront of research developing the gene editing tool known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). CRISPR was discovered in bacteria as a tool for fighting viruses used to cut and edit DNA. The practical applications in every living organism has been a game changer in human biology as well as the medical field. The technology was used to develop an mRNA vaccine by Moderna and Pfizer to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides the heady but understandable presentation of the theory and application of the science, Isaacson uses a large portion of the book to discuss the next great hurdle, the ethical, moral and social implications of “germ-line” gene editing, that is making permanent changes to the human gene pool, giving genes to human embryos that can be passed from one generation to the next. It is a very fascinating topic to think about and discuss. This discussion is happening right now in the 21st century deciding what the future of the human race will be as advances continue.
For all interested in both learning about the technology and its history as well as becoming more informed about the various ethical questions, moral implications and social challenges about moving forward, this book is a must-read.