Book Review: The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

This book is about Jennifer Doudna, the birth of CRISPR technology, and gene editing. The groundwork for why we got Covid tests and vaccines so fast. The road to using CRISPR technology has been rocky. It includes academic jealousy, race to be the one to get the merit, and backstabbing to obtain patents and make a fortune out of the emerging technology. Goes to show how silly we humans are and how murky the areas of inventions are when cooperating with others. You can’t make such a huge thing without the whole team’s effort. The book portrays Jennifer Doudna as the founder of CRISPR and a terrific team player whose only passion is to figure out how it works and put it to use. Then there is the question if Emmanuelle Charpentier should have the glory or not? After reading the book, I honestly can’t say even when it goes to great lengths to describe the academic rivalry. A subject I could have done a little less with, and instead of hoping the book would have concentrated more on how things work and what are the future consequences. But this is a biography, so I really can’t complain. 

I fear the book took a too extensive scope, wanting to give a biography, show how the concept actually works, discuss ethics, and insert the writer’s own personal history and views into the text. Honestly, it’s a mess and a repeating one. Yet, still, the questions it proposes about what gene editing will mean for us were interesting. For example, would it be okay to edit out blindness, or how about making your children taller, slimmer, or more intelligent? And if the government regulated such things, only allowing harmful traits to be altered (what is harmful anyway?), would the rich and powerful circumvent this by going to another country looser about the regulations? Plus, if the technology and altering one’s genetic makeup would advance, how would it fare for those children who didn’t get version 3.0 for their eyes or muscles? Would it create subhumans? All fascinating questions dealt with moral philosophy, yet the writer gives no clear answers. All fine, because how can such questions be even answered without a doubt? 

I have mixed feelings about the book. I loved reading about Jennifer Doudna’s childhood and history, the background for CRISPR, and the moral questions. I didn’t mind the stories about the academic weirdness because it’s essential, but it was repetitive and took a huge chunk out of the book. The book spread itself too thin, and it was a chore to read through. But that is an opinion of taste and what interests me. Someone else might find all the rivalries titillating.

Thank you for reading, and have a great day ❤

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