01.09.2021 |

What Walter Isaacson’s Book Gets Wrong About Gene Editing

REVIEW OF

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

The Code Breaker contains 481 pages of Oscar-level cinematic prose, providing a whistle-stop tour of how Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a large supporting cast discovered and developed the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR—an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. These repeating DNA features were found to be part of the defense system that bacteria have evolved over their billions of years of warfare with viruses. Enzymes associated with CRISPR sequences cut up attacking viral DNA and insert a section of it into the bacteria’s own genome in order to recognize it in the future. Doudna and her colleagues’ innovation was to configure and use this viral “mugshot” system to target and insert specific genetic sequences, creating a flexible DNA cut-and-paste tool.

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