- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (June 13, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0544716949
- ISBN-13: 978-0544716940
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 180 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution
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One of Science News' "Favorite Books of the Year"
“The first book on CRISPR to present a powerful mix of science and ethics…This book is required reading for every concerned citizen—the material it covers should be discussed in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country.”
—New York Review of Books
“Fascinating… When people refer to CRISPR now, they talk about wiping out disease, resurrecting woolly mammoths, and fashioning designer babies. Such implications fascinate and torment Doudna, and she writes about them movingly with Samuel Sternberg, a biochemist and former research colleague, in A Crack in Creation.”
"An essential start to educating the public...reveal[s] the complex, interlocking, and thoroughly international nature of today’s bioscience...CRISPR heralds a new era of massively increased human control over life, one that will affect every person on Earth, directly or indirectly, and much of the rest of our planet’s biosphere. If humans are to have any chance of harnessing its benefits, avoiding its risks, and using it in ways consistent with our values and cultures, then we all — not just the scientists, ethicists, and patent lawyers — need to understand something about CRISPR and its implications. A Crack in Creation is a great place to start."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
"An invaluable account, by Doudna and Samuel Sternberg, of their role in the revolution that is genome editing...It is unusual to have a popular account of a great scientific breakthrough written by the protagonist, so soon after its discovery. Watson’s The Double Helix appeared 15 years after the work. We owe Doudna several times over – for her discovery, for her zeal to take it from the lab into the clinic, for her involvement in the ethical issues raised, for her public engagement work, and now for this book. It’s a fine weapon against the still far too large tribe of those who don’t believe in the power of very small things."
"[A Crack in Creation] opens with the stark observation that the revolution in gene editing launched by CRISPR 'offers both the greatest promise and, arguably, the greatest peril for the future of humanity.' The first half of the book is a history of CRISPR’s development and a lucid explication of how it works. The authors describe the electrifying atmosphere of a laboratory at the front edge of discovery, while generously distributing credit to the legion of scientists who preceded Doudna and Chapentier or have carried their work forward...The book’s second half is an examination of CRISPR’s great potential to eliminate or cure disease and improve human existence in myriad ways, and of the perils it poses for humanity’s future."
—Los Angeles Times
“A Crack in Creation is a powerful testament to the role of curiosity and tenacity in scientific research, and also an urgent plea from the celebrated biologist whose discovery enabled us to rewrite the code of life. The future is in our hands as never before, and this book explains the stakes like no other.”
—George Lucas, filmmaker
“Urgent, riveting, and endlessly fascinating, A Crack in Creation is a journey through the past, present, and future of one of biology’s most significant discoveries. Combining deep historical perspectives, personal narrative, and scientific data, Doudna and Sternberg bring the story of CRISPR and ‘gene editing’ alive with pointed honesty and clarity. This book is destined to become an instant classic. Read it and understand its implications if you want to understand our biological future.”
—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Gene and The Emperor of All Maladies
“The technology of gene editing will be the most important advance of our era, one that will create astonishing opportunities combined with frightening moral challenges. In the tradition of The Double Helix, one of the pioneers of the field describes the exciting collaborative and competitive hunt for the key breakthrough and what it portends for our future.”
—Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Steve Jobs, Einstein, and The Innovators
“A Crack in Creation, by one of the most pioneering women in science, is both exhilarating and frightening. Jennifer Doudna and her co-author Samuel Sternberg challenge us to confront the possible dangers of gene editing, even as we embrace its incredible potential. This book is a roadmap to our future.”
—Arianna Huffington, bestselling author of Thrive and The Sleep Revolution
“Jennifer Doudna is the true pioneer who built the bridge between the basic science of CRISPR and its diverse applications in agriculture and medicine. Writing with Samuel Sternberg, she has crafted a beautifully written book with A Crack in Creation—a pure pleasure for both neophyte and expert. Now is the time to read about the revolution that could change our world.”
—George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and author of Regenesis
“We are developing ever more powerful tools that allow us to change the genetic makeup not only of life around us but also of ourselves. Describing the potential benefits of these tools as well as some of the risks and ethical issues they present to society, A Crack inCreation is a scientific thriller and a gripping read, framed as a personal voyage by a brilliant scientist who played a major role in developing what is currently one of the most promising and powerful ways of editing our genomes.”
—Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
"[A Crack in Creation] contribute[s] to a public understanding of CRISPR, explaining science in terms that are understandable for the general reader...Fascinating."
—Wall Street Journal
“An enthusiastic and definitely not dumbed-down account of gene manipulation that, unlike earlier methods, is precise and easy...an important book about a major scientific advance.”
—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED
“The authors describe the biological mechanisms in a way that nonspecialists can appreciate...excellent book.”
"A Crack in Creation chronicles the origin and potential application of CRISPR, the powerful new gene-editing technique that established Doudna as a household name in scientific circles...The first section begins with a history of gene-editing technology and how these research endeavors were largely propelled by the quest to eradicate genetic diseases...Reviewing the fundamentals will enable your imagination to unspool. You'll find yourself pausing to plot your own CRISPR-inspired science project—or science fiction scenario...In the second half of the book, the authors outline the staggering potential applications of CRISPR technology...The narrative between the lines that propels the book forward."
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The reason is not simply because of the authors’ pedigree — co-author Jennifer Doudna is credited as the chief pioneer behind CRISPR, the potentially world-changing gene-editing technique. The book’s impact is also buttressed by the authors’ scientific rigor, deeply felt passion, and understanding of the world-changing consequences of their research.
Doudna and Samuel Sternberg’s “A Crack in Creation” is two books in one. The first third is a short primer on genetic engineering and the scientists who’ve advanced the science over the years. While the attention to detail and footnote-rich documentation is commendable, the lay reader will be forgiven if she skips through some of the dry backstory to get to the good stuff in the remaining two-thirds of the book. Because few of us have yet to reckon with the significant issues raised by the recent breakthroughs in CRISPR research, which only came to light in 2012.
As the authors write:
“Many experts predicted that CRISPR would be a research biologist’s dream come true, enabling experiments that one could have only fantasized about doing before. I imagined that it would democratize a technology that had once been the privilege of the few. … Now, CRISPR seemed to be on everyone’s lips and the topic of every conversation. And yet it was still only the tip of the iceberg. …
“As I sat on the plane flying back to San Francisco after that first trip to Cambridge, I could already see a new era of genetic command and control on the horizon—an era in which CRISPR would transform biologists’ shared toolkit by endowing them with the power to rewrite the genome virtually any way they desired. Instead of remaining an unwieldy, uninterpretable document, the genome would become as malleable as a piece of literary prose at the mercy of an editor’s red pen.”
Doudna’s initial worries centered on whether scientists would prematurely use CRISPR without proper oversight or consideration of the risks and whether bad actors might use the technology for nefarious purposes. So she took the first halting steps to begin a public dialogue about the implications of CRISPR research, first by organizing a roundtable of 17 scientists in January 2015 and then a larger gathering later that year to discuss gene therapy and germline enhancement. Those discussions continue to this day.
Meantime, other researchers and entrepreneurs got busy. Entire companies have sprung up with the mission of conquering such genetic disorders as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and Duchene muscular dystrophy. The reader roots along with the authors in cheering on what amounts to the beginning of what might be called “the precision genetic medicine revolution.”
It’s helpful that the authors translate scientific arcana into everyday language, as when they mention that a snippet of DNA being modified by CRISPR is “roughly one one-thousandth the width of a human hair” or that a molecule “acted like a set of GPS coordinates” to guide the replacement DNA to the right spot or when referring to an enzyme as a “motorized hedge clipper.”
Many readers will be interested in not today’s practical applications in the lab but in what tomorrow may herald. Count me in the latter category, as I just finished writing a suspense novel with CRISPR at the centerpiece. What’s so fascinating about the technology’s future prospects? The authors write:
“In the future, parents may be offered the option of selecting for traits that go beyond disease susceptibility and gender and cross into areas like behavior, physical appearance, or even intelligence. The list of known associations between certain gene variants and a diverse list of traits continues to grow, and as the PGD technology improves further, what’s to stop fertility clinics from consulting this genetic information so they can offer their consumers even more choices when it comes to selecting the most desirable or ‘best’ embryos?”
Entire conferences and mountains of newsprint will be devoted to dissecting the implications of CRISPR usage on early stage human embryos in the decades ahead. The door has just been cracked ajar.
Where does Doudna, the progenitor of CRISPR, come down on the ethical scales?
“I don’t believe there’s an ethical defense for banning germline modification outright, nor do I think we can justifiably prevent parents from using CRISPR to improve their chances of having a healthy, genetically related child, so long as the methods are safe and are offered in an equitable manner. … [But we also need to] redouble our commitment to building a society in which all humans are respected and treated equally, regardless of their genetic makeup. …
“Advances in gene editing are enabling us to rewrite the very language of life—and putting us closer to gaining near-complete control of our genetic destiny. Together, we can choose how best to harness this technology There’s simply no way to unlearn this new knowledge, so we must embrace it. But we must do so cautiously, and with the utmost respect for the unimaginable power it grants us.”
Well said. The authors smartly observe that society as a whole needs to be in on the decision on whether to move forward with certain aspects of the gene-editing revolution, and that scientists need to demystify the technology so the public can “understand their implications and decide how to use them.” Let the robust debate begin.
Amid all the excitement a dream in which she meets Adolph Hitler compelled Dr Doudna to ask the Frankenstein question: Just because we can do something (in this instance, edit the human germline), does that mean we should? In a collection of essays entitled "From Under the Rubble," Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn presents the image of technologists running hard to both keep up and stay ahead. They're running hard just to keep pace--heads down and tongues lolling, panting and sweating to stay ahead of the researcher on their heels while trying to overtake the researcher just ahead. But they never take the time to ask IF their research ought to proceed.
All credit is due Dr Doudna for exclaiming, Wait! We need to talk this through; this issue is too big for just science. Yes, she comes down on the side of racing forward. But the way she thinks through this potentially humanity changing science helped me see gene editing not just with layman's knowledge, but with compassion and a bit wider perspective than when I started the book. And yet ... while she pays polite lip service to potential religious concerns about gene editing, her embrace of random evolution leads her to view religious objections as antiquated notions that need only be addressed to be disposed.
Scientists (actually, their editors) writing for layman ought to include a glossary. That's missing. And her habit of expressing how brilliant her fellow scientists are gets pretty worn pretty fast. Regardless, A Crack In Creation deserves your attention. ~
Star Readers: from out of the east
The author's sometimes apparent (to me) hubris needs to be carefully balanced against the awesome power and "unknown unknowns" this technology may bring to humanity, e.g. a few passages leapt out, such as blithe dismissal of the likelihood of humans repeating the dark history of eugenics. Nevertheless, I believe the author is aiming to do good and this is an important contribution in shining a light in this area - I was surprised (and shocked) that science had progressed so far and so quickly, at least to me, without significant public debate or governmental intervention.
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George Burnell, M.D.