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Book Reviews

A Crack in Creation by Jennifer Doudna | May 2023

June 2, 2023

Sim, RBC Member

In May, we explored the thrilling science that is changing the very essence of what makes us human.

Curating a shortlist for May's theme was hard with the multitude of great books available on the topic of Genes. Each of the three books included in the vote approach the topic from a different perspective and are written by authorities on the subject and they compliment each other.

The three books in the vote:

Book #1: Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome

By Venki Ramakrishnan | Published by Oneworld Publications, 2019

Available here.

Everyone knows about DNA, the essence of our being, the molecule where our genes reside. But DNA by itself is useless without a machine to decode the genetic information it contains. The ribosome is that machine. Venki Ramakrishnan tells the story of the race to uncover its enormously complex structure, a fundamental breakthrough that resolves an ancient mystery of life itself.

Why we chose it:

If someone had told me that one of the most witty and enthralling books I’d read this year would be on the quest to understand ribosomes, I believe I would have laughed in his face, but I would have been quite wrong.” - Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Nearly Everything

Book #2: A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution

By Jennifer Doudna & Samuel Sternberg | Published by Vintage, 2018

Available here.

A handful of discoveries have changed the course of human history. This book is about the most recent and potentially the most powerful and dangerous of them all. It is an invention that allows us to rewrite the genetic code that shapes and controls all living beings. As a result, dreams of genetic manipulation have become a stark reality: the power to cure disease and alleviate suffering, as well as to re-design any species, including humans, for our own ends.

Jennifer Doudna is the co-inventor of this technology - known as CRISPR - and a scientist of worldwide renown. With fellow researcher S. Sternberg, she provides the definitive account of her discovery, explaining how this wondrous invention works and what it is capable of.

Why we chose it:

"The most important advance of our era. One of the pioneers of the field describes the exciting hunt for the key breakthrough and what it portends for our future." - Walter Isaacson

Book #3: The Unnatural Selection of Our Species: At the Frontier of Gene Editing

By Torill Kornfeldt | Published by Hero, 2021

Available here.

In 2018, the first genetically-modified children were born. Now we have the tools to reshape the future of our species. With a pair of genetic scissors known as CRISPR, we can potentially select the traits of our children, or avoid ageing, or cure disease. But with that ability comes a new set of risks, forcing us to face hard ethical questions.

Torill Kornfeldt has travelled all over the world to meet the people driving this research forward. She has visited fertility clinics in South Korea, oncologists in China who are experimenting on sick patients, and biohackers in the US who want to make the new technology available to everyone. 

Why we chose it:

"Extinction might not be forever!...Free of most scientific jargon, Kornfeldt's book is an eye-opening introduction to an important new field of study that"s well fit for public library audiences." - Booklist

May vote result:

One of our closes ever votes!

🥇 34% - A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution

🥈 33% - The Unnatural Selection of Our Species

🥉 33% - Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome

May’s events with RBC members, experts in genetics

At the end-of-month events, we focused on understanding the mystery behind the science and talked about the ethical implications of CRISPR. Some of the questions we answered were: 

Q: What is CRISPR technology and how does it work?

A: CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary gene-editing technology that allows scientists to precisely modify DNA. 

Q: What are the potential applications of CRISPR technology in genetic engineering?

A: The treatment of genetic diseases, agricultural improvements, creation of genetically modified organisms, development of new therapies, and research in various fields such as biology and biotechnology.

Q: What are the ethical considerations surrounding the use of CRISPR technology in human gene editing?

A: Involve issues like consent, safety, unintended consequences, inequality in access to treatment, the potential for designer babies, and the boundaries of what should or should not be modified in the human genome.

Digital event

Guest: RBC member Roshini Johri

Joining us from the Maldives where she was busy diving with sharks, Roshini helped us to understand the science behind CRISPR and to fill us in on its latest applications, before we divided into smaller groups for gene-focused discussions. 

About Roshini

Roshini is an avid reader with 12+ years of experience in AI and a passion for all things science. She believes CRISPR / Cas9 and AI together are going to become one of the biggest game changers for cancer immunotherapy and gene editing.

Roshini follows this work closely. She is the founder for a 2000+ community that supports and champions women in AI.

London event

The London event was hosted by CitizenM -Tower of London at their fantastic CloudM Rooftop Bar.

Over delicious drinks, we heard from our in-house genetics experts Sophie and Spyros before taking on the challenge to explain CRISPR as if for a 6 year-old, a brainy quiz + plenty of convos on the ethics and implications of this technology.

In-house genetics experts: 

Sophie Stephenson

Sophie is a published scientist in the fields of genetics and nutrigenetics. She is a medical communications specialist, working to translate complex scientific ideas for a range of audiences. 

Sophie worked in both the private and charity sector, focusing on improving healthcare professional's knowledge and patient advocacy

Dr. Spyros Batzios

Dr. Spyros Batzios is a Consultant in Paediatric Metabolic Medicine and the Clinical Lead of the Metabolic Department at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). 

He was appointed a consultant in 2016 and he continues to work to date as a clinician while he has a great interest in research and has been the principal and sub investigator in multiple high intensity clinical trials related to the discovery of innovative treatments for patients with various Inborn Errors of Metabolism (not using CRISPR editing yet!). 

Thank you!

Venue - CitizenM

Photos - RBC member Sim

Volunteer crew: Shioban, Ben A. & Jasmine

Coming up at RBC in June

'Women WithOut Kids'

Ahead of our chat with Ruby Warrington on The Books That Made Me podcast, we asked you to send your questions for her. This sparked a flurry of questions and conversation on the topic of Women Without Kids, so we decided to change course and chosen Rudy's book as our June RBC read.

We’ll explore the topic from multiple points of view, including women who are mothers, fathers, and individuals who’s circumstances don’t allow them to have a choice. We have a podcast episode with Ruby Warrington coming up and she’ll also be joining us at one June event.

Thanks to our friends at xigxag, new members joining us for June will receive Women without Kids as an audiobook for free.

RBC #100: Save the date

For our 100th book, we’re organising a mini RBC festival and a big celebration in London on Friday 15th September, 5pm - late. Save the date + sign up to Rebel Hacks, our free newsletter.

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What else happened in May?

30+ RBC members met for brunch at a London venue just off Oxford-street in London on Sunday.

The convos ranged from nonfiction books to travel, food and gene modification.

Thanks to Alex and Ana for being brilliant hosts. 

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