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Cracking the Genome: Inside the Race to Unlock Human DNA Paperback – October 29, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The Human Genome Project, the effort to determine the full genetic composition of human beings, has consumed billions of dollars, involved thousands of scientists, captured the imaginations of millions of people and offered the promise of untold numbers of medical breakthroughs. Davies, founding editor of the journal Nature Genetics and author of Breakthrough: The Race to find the Breast Cancer Gene, does an impressive job of contextualizing the science within a political, economic and social framework, creating a lively tale as accessible to nonspecialists as it is to scientists. A quest for profits as well as accolades is shown to be an important force in shaping "what is, at the very least, an extraordinary technological achievement, and is at best perhaps the defining moment in the evolution of mankind." Most of the leading scientists involved, individuals such as James Watson, Nobel laureate and original director of the Human Genome Project; Francis Collins, Watson's successor; and J. Craig Venter, the entrepreneurial scientist who decided to compete with the publicly funded Human Genome Project using private money and untested computational methods, spoke openly with Davies about their hopes and desires. Davies does a fine job describing the basic molecular biology and genetics underlying the Project as well as many of the ways our newfound knowledge may be put to use, though he largely ignores the ethical considerations swirling around a lot of these options. (Jan.) Forecast: The Free Press hopes publication will coincide with the public joint release of the human genome sequence by the Human Genome Project and Craig Venter's Celera Genomics. Spurred by that burst of publicity, the same readers who put Matt Ridley's Genome on the New York Times paperback bestseller list may provide brisk sales of this title as well.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Johns Hopkins Paberbacks Ed edition (October 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801871409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801871405
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,660,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born and raised in London, Kevin Davies studied at Oxford University and moved to the U.S. in 1987 after earning his PhD in genetics. He endured two years at the bench before seeking refuge in the editorial office of Nature magazine. He was the founding editor of the journal Nature Genetics and has also worked at Cell Press and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is currently the editor of Bio-IT World magazine, based in Boston.

"The $1,000 Genome" is Kevin's third book, and second for the Free Press. He published "Cracking the Genome," about the race for the Human Genome Project, in 2000. His first book, "Breakthrough," co-authored with Michael White, was about the race to identify the "breast cancer gene" in the mid-90s.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought this book last week, and I'm about half way through it. I have a problem with Davies explanations of the "gene searches" that he recounts. I am not a biologist, but I have a reasonable background on the topic of DNA and protein synthesis. The main issue is that he does not provide enough information to really understand the techniques involved in mapping and sequencing DNA. He seems to be assuming either that the reader has some background knowledge in laboratory techniques, or really doesn't care. For example, he describes the technique "positional cloning", stating that it rapidly increases searching through millions of base pairs once you have found the chromosome of the disorder. He even describes a fragment of the technique, saying that the ends of a region of the DNA are ligated to form a ring which allows "jumping", which is preferrable to "walking" along the sequence. As a reader, I don't really understand the full scope of the problem, and so I can't really appreciate the improvement in technique that was invented. Another example of this is when he describes how Eric Lander proposed using bacteria growing in a petry dish, which has been augmented with mutated genes from a population of humans with a genetic disorder, to ferret out the location of the mutation on the gene. He describes the goal, and the gist of the technique, but neglets to tie it together, to facilitate comprehension of why it actually works. There are many other examples of this.
Other than that, I am enjoying the book, and I have gotten some comprehension of the problems that the genetecists are trying to solve. For example, his description of Craig Venter's technique of sequencing cDNA is quite good.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely readable account of personalities and events that have occurred in the genome field during the last decade (plus some). It is basically two books. One is the story about the politics and events surrounding the public and private efforts to sequence the human genome. The other is a brief survey of medical genetics to put the genome sequencing effort in context. By medical genetics I mean the genetically unusual and useful individuals and populations that geneticists study to find and understand disease genes. For example: the Huntington's disease story. The medical genetics stories have all been reported on in other books of this type but the comprehensive account of the public/private genome efforts is worth reading to those who have been following the magazine and newspaper accounts. It essentially collates all of the stories and news bites of the last several years into a single coherent narrative. As an earlier review noted it is short on science but that is what makes the book a good read. You can pick up the minimal science facts necessary from many other books and web sites.
I've been an engineer in the DOE genome program for about 10 years now. Many of the stories in the book I've heard first hand from people who were either in the room or were participants in the events. It is as accurate a version as any I've seen. Usually I shy away from these types of books but this one is a must read if you really want to get beyond the hype of the popular press.
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Format: Hardcover
Although science is not everyone's favorite subject, the story of the sequencing of the human genome is of importance to every person on the planet.
The story of the Human Genome Project itself, which is an illustration of how the private sector can succeed where government funded projects have difficulties, is interesting in itself. Even outside of the medical and ethical implications, this story is worth reading for that information alone.
But where this book really provides important food for thought is in the medical and ethical arena. It is now possible to find the location and coding for diseases and potential diseases using this information. How will we use this information? To create cures for devastating degenerative diseases like Huntington's, to find cures for the incurable? Or will we use it to deny medical care to people deemed potential insurance risks.
One thing that came out of the study was the surprising small number of genes that comprise the genome--one third the number that had long been predicted. Clearly, the genome is an instruction set, and the blueprints to build a human, and the errors that create disease, are written in how the genes are interpreted by the biological mechanism.
How we should utilize this information, for good or evil, in years to come will surely be some of the most controversial and important discussions we will have. This book is an excellent place to start in order to understand the basis of this world-shaking achievement.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a very important contribution to both the scientific and the business literature for the lay person. It provides an overview of the development of our understanding of heredity from Gregor Mendel's pioneering work until the human genome was 99 percent sequenced in early 2000. The book then looks beyond that remarkable success to outline the even greater and more challenging work ahead. By contrasting the expensive, slow public effort with the agile, rapid progress of private industry, the book is also a cautionary tale about how to accelerate scientific progress through private incentives.
Many books about scientific advances focus a lot on the science. Cracking the Genome does that as well, but the book is improved by considering the personalities of the people involved, their interactions, public policy questions, ethical discussions, and science fiction like speculations about the eventual shape of the scientific applications of this work. These perspectives are valuable for expanding your understanding, as well as for making the book much more interesting.
Frankly, the book could have used a little more science. I recommend that you read the recent book, Genome, as well which will give you a more detailed understanding of the underlying structure of the genome and how it works.
The Human Genome Project was originally conceived of as a public project funded by three billion dollars in taxpayer money taking 15 years. At the half-way point in the project, only 4 percent of the human genome had been sequenced. A one-time NIH (National Institutes of Health) neuroscience researcher, J. Craig Ventor, had been arguing unsuccessfully for a computer-based "brute force" method as faster and cheaper. All of the M.D.
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