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The Geneticist Who Played Hoops with My DNA: . . . And Other Masterminds from the Frontiers of Biotech Hardcover – May 10, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Experiments are under way to create new forms of life," writes journalist Duncan, "[y]et we hardly know the scientists and others sweeping us into the new world." So this collection of biographical studies (expanding on an article in Wired magazine) aims to introduce seven of the men and women on the frontiers of biotech research. To make these "very human, and therefore flawed" scientists more representative, Duncan (Calendar) frames each portrait with the life of a mythic figure; James Watson (co-discoverer of DNA's double helix) as Zeus, for example, or Craig Venter (who founded a company to compete with the Human Genome Project on sequencing the genome) as Faustus. While the idea is intriguing, its execution is uneven—some profiles sparkle and some fall flat. The one constant is Duncan himself, whose willingness to inject himself into the story in unorthodox ways offers some of the book's highlights (submitting his own DNA for genetic testing, for example, to the geneticist with whom he played the game of basketball referred to in the title). Although his frequently voiced ambivalence about the morality of biotechnology sometimes seems cursory and contrived, his book as a whole offers a decent historical overview of the contemporary biotech landscape that will appeal to readers unfamiliar with its contours.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Duncan interviewed seven of molecular biology's leading personalities about whether recombinant DNA technology should scare us. Besides relaying their discoveries, Duncan also elaborates on their demeanor during questioning, a ritual Duncan senses they've endured many times. This perception opens the avenue for assessing the scientist's attitude toward the public, whose tax dollars bankroll much biotech research. Several of Duncan's subjects, such as Douglas Melton, who is a leading investigator and champion of stem-cell research, patiently explain their research. By contrast, brashly ambitious scientists, such as James Watson or J. Craig Venter, are less concerned with public perception, and embody damn-the-torpedoes curiosity to reveal the secrets of life, or in Venter's current work, to create artificial life. To take the measure of such audacious egos, Duncan compares each interviewee to a mythical or biblical figure--Moses is his appellation for Nobel recipient Paul Berg, a 1970s pioneer of recombinant DNA who is notable for addressing its safety and ethics. Illuminating profiles of some of our most brilliant scientists. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (May 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060537388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060537388
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #866,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Author David Duncan, in The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA, spotlights the ongoing research in biotechnology. This effort is fueled by "an unprecedented surge of funding from government and the private sector, and supported by a society that loves gadgets, the medical miracles, and the standard of living afforded by modern science."(7) Duncan questions how "we [society] know for sure what they [scientists] -and we- are doing, and what will its impact be?"(10) The consequences of unraveling the human genetic code, while hopefully beneficial, could prove harmful. Scientist's reassurances notwithstanding, breakthroughs in biotechnology, as in all cutting edge discoveries, necessarily involves risks. Searching for the balance between caution and progress, Duncan assesses the motivations and personalities of nine scientists involved in this groundbreaking work.

Duncan compares his subjects to biblical, mythological, or literary figures. His "Eve" is Cynthia Kenyon; an able communicator who cautions that "we shouldn't be taken by surprise"(79) by the potential for extending life. "Paul," Francis Collins, is a scientist as well as being a devout Christian. Duncan's "Faustus," Craig Venter, heralds his innocence from profiteering, proclaiming "it was the tools we were out to sell, not the genome itself."(135) The chief of Greek gods, "Zeus," is James Watson, the overseer of the Cold Spring Harbor research facility. The devilish "Puck," Sydney Brenner, sees "science as a great game."(182)

One eminent scientist, Paul Berg, is characterized by Duncan as the wise "Moses" leading his flock to the Promised Land because Berg delayed an experiment until he was certain it could be conducted safely.
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Format: Hardcover
This is perfect reading for anyone who feels overwhelmed by current biotech events in the news, and that's basically all of us non-scientists. Most of have strong feelings about ethical decisions biotech presents us, big fears about science fiction cloning disasters, and firmly entrenched moral and religious values. But who the hell knows what these scientists are really doing and what goes on in all those molecules? We need to know that to deal with all of our fears, beliefs and passions -- and this book is THE place to start. Fun, a great read, it introduces us to the incredible people behind biotech and the science they offer us.
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Format: Hardcover
Duncan has done what we all long for -- delved to the bottom of an important, complex subject, and told us about it in accessible, fun-loving style. This is a great way to get acquainted with a topic that is fast becoming the center of modern life -- how scientists are finding new recipes and tools to play with, and free everyone from, the old confines of the imperfect human body. Read it and laugh, and learn. It's a treat from start to finish.
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Format: Hardcover
I am not a person versed in biotechnology, but I LOVED this book. I found Duncan's writing both highly entertaining and educational, full of fascinating science and even more fascinating characters. The profiles of leading scientists made me laugh, shake my head, and want to stand up and applaud. It's impossible not to be dazzled by the people in this book, and turned on by the science itself.
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Format: Hardcover
In the developed world the various sciences connected with DNA are leading a revolution in the way we view the human body.

In part, this book describes a complete genetic scan given to the author. The scan is looking for genes that prescribe a likelyhood of future diseases. Each of the major diseases that affect men are analyzed to see what his future holds. This is combined with some serious thinking about the implications of knowing that you are pre-disposed to have cancer, Alzheimers, Huntington's Disease or something else that is pretty nasty.

In addition the book reports on a series of discussions with leading researchers at the forefront of knowledge about DNA. This gives an up to date view of the state of the art as it exists today.

This is a fascinating book to explain a science that will have impact on us all. As I read it though, I was almost constantly reminded of the situation in Botswanna where the average life span is expected to drop to 27 years by the year 2010 because of AIDS. The differences in the two worlds is astounding.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Duncan has skillfully brought readers into the world of some of the key scientists in the biotech field - Doug Melton, Francis Collins, Craig Venter, James Watson etc. The intensive competition & personalities within the field are vividly illustrated, thru Duncan's humourous writing styles, solid research & personal meetings with scientists.
As once said by James Watson: 'Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward logical manner imagined by outsiders. Instead, its steps forward (& sometimes backward) are often very human events in which personalities & cultural traditions play major roles.'; 'The Geneticist who Played Hoops with my DNA' is a slamp dunk & provides readers with an engaging glimpse to such 'human events'.
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