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Cracking the Genome

Inside the Race To Unlock Human DNA

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eBook published by Free Press (Free Press)

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In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. The discovery was a profound, Nobel Prize-winning moment in the history of genetics, but it did not decipher the messages on the twisted, ladderlike strands within our cells. No one knew what the human genome sequence actually was. No one had cracked the code of life. Now, at the beginning of a new millennium, that code has been cracked.
Kevin Davies, founding editor of the leading journal in the field, Nature Genetics, has relentlessly followed the story as it unfolded, week by week, for ten years. Here for the first time, in rich human, scientific, and financial detail, is the dramatic story of one of the greatest scientific feats ever accomplished: the mapping of the human genome.
In 1990, the U.S. government approved a 15-year, $3 billion plan to launch the Human Genome Project, whose goal was to sequence the 3 billion letters of human DNA. At the helm of the project was James Watson, who resigned after only a couple of years, following a feud with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Bernadine Healy over gene patenting. His successor was the brilliant young medical geneticist Francis Collins, who had made his name discovering the gene for cystic fibrosis. As Davies reports, Collins is a devout Christian who has traveled to Africa to work in a missionary hospital. He believes the human genome sequence is "the language of God." Just as Collins became project director, J. Craig Venter, a maverick DNA sequencer and Vietnam veteran, was leaving the NIH to start his own private research institute. Venter had developed a simple "shotgun" strategy for sequencing DNA, and his fame skyrocketed when his new institute proved his sequencing system worked by becoming the first to sequence the entire genome of a microorganism.
Only 3 percent of the human genome had been sequenced by early 1998, the public project's halfway point. That same year, Venter was approached by PE Corporation to launch a private human genome project. He stunned the world when he announced the formation of a new company to sequence the human genome in a mere three years for $300 million. A war of words broke out between public and private researchers. Undeterred, Venter built Celera Genomics with the motto "Speed matters. Discovery can't wait." and an $80 million supercomputer. While the insults intensified, Celera's stock price soared, tumbled, and soared again. Negotiations for cooperation between the public and private institutes began, only to fall apart in acrimony. Then in the spring of 2000 President Clinton stepped in, telling his science adviser to restart negotiations. History was about to be made.
Davies captures the drama of this momentous achievement, drawing on his own genetics expertise and interviews with key scientists including Venter and Collins, as well as Eric Lander, an MIT computer wizard who refers to the public genome project as "the forces of good"; Kari Stefánsson, the genetics entrepreneur who is remaking Iceland's economy; and John Sulston, chief of the UK genome project, who led the charge against gene patenting. Davies has visited geneticists around the world to illustrate a vast international enterprise working on the frontier of human knowledge. Cracking the Genome is the definitive account of how the code that holds the answers to the origin of life, the evolution of humanity, and the future of medicine was broken.
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In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA. The discovery was a profound, Nobel Prize-winning moment in the history of genetics, but it did not decipher the messages on the twisted, ladderlike strands within our cells. No one knew what the human genome sequence actually was. No one had cracked the code of life. Now, at the beginning of a new millennium, that code has been cracked.
Kevin Davies, founding editor of the leading journal in the field, Nature Genetics, has relentlessly followed the story as it unfolded, week by week, for ten years. Here for the first time, in rich human, scientific, and financial detail, is the dramatic story of one of the greatest scientific feats ever accomplished: the mapping of the human genome.
In 1990, the U.S. government approved a 15-year, $3 billion plan to launch the Human Genome Project, whose goal was to sequence the 3 billion letters of human DNA. At the helm of the project was James Watson, who resigned after only a couple of years, following a feud with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Bernadine Healy over gene patenting. His successor was the brilliant young medical geneticist Francis Collins, who had made his name discovering the gene for cystic fibrosis. As Davies reports, Collins is a devout Christian who has traveled to Africa to work in a missionary hospital. He believes the human genome sequence is "the language of God." Just as Collins became project director, J. Craig Venter, a maverick DNA sequencer and Vietnam veteran, was leaving the NIH to start his own private research institute. Venter had developed a simple "shotgun" strategy for sequencing DNA, and his fame skyrocketed when his new institute proved his sequencing system worked by becoming the first to sequence the entire genome of a microorganism.
Only 3 percent of the human genome had been sequenced by early 1998, the public project's halfway point. That same year, Venter was approached by PE Corporation to launch a private human genome project. He stunned the world when he announced the formation of a new company to sequence the human genome in a mere three years for $300 million. A war of words broke out between public and private researchers. Undeterred, Venter built Celera Genomics with the motto "Speed matters. Discovery can't wait." and an $80 million supercomputer. While the insults intensified, Celera's stock price soared, tumbled, and soared again. Negotiations for cooperation between the public and private institutes began, only to fall apart in acrimony. Then in the spring of 2000 President Clinton stepped in, telling his science adviser to restart negotiations. History was about to be made.
Davies captures the drama of this momentous achievement, drawing on his own genetics expertise and interviews with key scientists including Venter and Collins, as well as Eric Lander, an MIT computer wizard who refers to the public genome project as "the forces of good"; Kari Stefánsson, the genetics entrepreneur who is remaking Iceland's economy; and John Sulston, chief of the UK genome project, who led the charge against gene patenting. Davies has visited geneticists around the world to illustrate a vast international enterprise working on the frontier of human knowledge. Cracking the Genome is the definitive account of how the code that holds the answers to the origin of life, the evolution of humanity, and the future of medicine was broken.
Product Details
eBook (320 pages)
Published: January 5, 2001
Publisher: Free Press
Imprint: Free Press
ISBN: 9780743217248
Other books byKevin Davies
  • The $1,000 Genome

    The $1,000 Genome
    The Revolution in DNA Sequencing and the New...
    In 2000, President Bill Clinton signaled the completion of the Human Genome Project at a cost in excess of $2 billion. A decade later, the price for any of us to order our own personal genome sequence—a comprehensive map of the 3 billion letters in our DNA—is rapidly and inevitably dropping to just $1,000. Dozens of men and women—scientists, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and patients—have already been sequenced, pioneers in a bold new era of personalized genomic medicine. The $1,000 genome has long been considered the tipping point that would open the floodgates to this revolution. Do you have gene variants associated with Alzheimer’s or diabetes, heart disease or cancer? Which drugs should you consider taking for various diseases, and at what dosage? In the years to come, doctors will likely be able to tackle all of these questions—and many more—by using a computer in their offices to call up your unique genome sequence, which will become as much a part of your medical record as your blood pressure. Indeed, many experts are advocating that all newborns have a complete genome analysis done so that preventive measures and preemptive medicine can begin early in life. How has this astonishing achievement been accomplished? And what will it mean for our lives? To research the story of this unfolding revolution, critically acclaimed science writer Kevin Davies has spent the past few years traveling to the leading centers and interviewing the entrepreneurs and pioneers in the race to achieve the $1,000 genome. He vividly brings to life the extraordinary drama of this grand scientific achievement, revealing the masterful ingenuity that has transformed the process of decoding DNA and delivering the information it possesses to the public at large. Davies also profiles the future of genomic medicine and thoughtfully explores the many pressing issues raised by the tidal wave of personal genetic information. Will your privacy be protected? Will you be pressured, by insurance companies or by your employer, to get your genome sequenced? What psychological toll might there be to discovering you are at risk for certain diseases like Alzheimer’s? And will the government or the medical establishment come between you and your genome? One thing that is not in question is that we are moving swiftly into the personalized medicine era, and The $1,000 Genome is an essential guide to this brave new future.

    Comp

    Comp
    Poetry. Deftly combining toughboy wit with a kind of hyper-awareness of language usually only found in Language poets, Kevin Davies' COMP. is a brilliant and hilarious read. Quoth the man himself--I learned the year after kindergarten that sentences are linguistic artifacts with regulations that fill themselves out, and that for the purposes of our circus-cannon ambitions the most important part of the war they enact is the full-stopping dots that divide the booty amongst camp-following berzerkers of the sub-syllabic frontier. Word.

    The Golden Age of Paraphernalia

    The Golden Age of Paraphernalia
    Poetry. Radically comic, formally inventive, and ridiculously smart, every 8 to 10 years Kevin Davies releases a new book reminding us just how unexpected poetry can be. THE GOLDEN AGE OF PARAPHERNALIA will without doubt garner the applause his previous book COMP. (Edge Books, 2000) received. That garnering included The San Francisco Book Award in 2000 selected by Kevin Killian, write-ups in the New York Times, Village Voice, and Boston Review, translation into French by Xandaire Selene, and extended critical articles in American Literature, Jacket, and The Poker-- i.e. Davies' work has met with more than a little enthusiasm. One example: Joshua Clover in the Village Voice: "Davies often writes long, tumbling sequences that gather force like a dream landslide, with each part standing out as an idiosyncratic scene charged by an alluring voice, or stance, not quite like anything else in contemporary poetry." Cover photograph by Benjamin Friedlander.

    Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies

    Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies

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