Our Genetic Future

April 07, 2021 | By Baltimore County Public Library

The pandemic has understandably grabbed the medical headlines for the past year, but another story may ultimately prove to have more long-lasting effects and ramifications for the future of humanity. Just as the makeup of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was mapped in record time, and effective vaccines against it were created with unprecedented speed, the rapid rate of our ability to create genetic modifications is now upon us. And now law, ethics and government are desperately trying to catch up with these incredible technological advances.

Cover of the novel The Code Breaker

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

Known for his authoritative biographies of pillars such as Steve Jobs, Einstein and Leonardo, the author turns his attention to the life and work of Jennifer Doudna, co-winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for major advances using CRISPR. Her 2006 development of a simplified process to slice and dice genes ushered in a new world of biotechnology with far-ranging implications. As Isaacson explains, CRISPR innovations have played a major role in the understanding of and battle against COVID-19, and in this magisterial work, he patiently explains the complex technology and its many potential valuable applications.  

Cover of the novel CRISPR People

"CRISPR People: The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans" by Henry T. Greely

In November 2018, it was revealed that a Chinese scientist had genome-edited the embryos of recently born fraternal twins. How did He Jiankui accomplish such a feat and what ethical concerns immediately surfaced the fallout of such an action? Greely, an ethics and law professor at Stanford, describes the critical need for regulation against future renegade uses of germline genome editing and how this incident finally kickstarted the legal community’s focus on the subject.

Cover of the novel Editing Humanity

"Editing Humanity: The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing" by Kevin Davies

Davies, a molecular geneticist and Guggenheim fellow, unpacks the CRISPR revolution and provides a clear understanding of how we have arrived at this point in the ability to edit genomes. From the earliest genetic engineering of plants in the 1970s, through Dolly the sheep and the Chinese twins incident, the author explains how these discoveries have changed the way we eat and how we ponder our mortality.

Cover of the novel The Genome Odyssey

"The Genome Odyssey: Medical Mysteries and the Incredible Quest to Solve Them" by Euan Angus Ashley

Taking the advances of mapping the human genome to the forefront, this work focuses on the many possible medical breakthroughs that have become imaginable. Ashley, a pioneer of gene-sequencing technologies, offers compelling stories of real patients whose lives have been extended and saved by these mind-boggling developments. The promise of long-hoped-for genomics therapies for rare mutations and common ailments may finally be upon us.

Cover of the novel The Mutant Project

"The Mutant Project: Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans" by Eben Kirksey

Anthropologist Kirksey takes on the dark side of genetic engineering. The author reports on numerous ethical concerns—particularly the costs related to genomics—and how those with sufficient means will be able to modify their genetic codes and that of their progeny, while the poor may once again be locked out. Other issues, such as eugenics, regulation and who is the arbiter of what genes are considered “normal,” are further explored in this readable guide that asks hard questions about these new technologies.

Cover of the novel What is Life

"What is Life? : Five Great Ideas in Biology" by Paul Nurse

In this short treatise by a Nobel Prize winner, five of the core elements of biology, including genetics, are explored with wonder and lucidity. Starting by asking “what does it really mean to be alive,” Nurse pulls together thoughts about life that everyone has, at some time, considered. He writes with the experience of a lifelong scientist that has seen many changes, and is both wise and revelatory in his spirited and conversational style.

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