A Crack in Creation Summary

Jennifer Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg

A Crack in Creation

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A Crack in Creation Summary

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In A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution (2017), a genetics-focused science book, Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg discuss the implications of a recent discovery allowing us to completely rewrite genetic codes. The book has been nominated for numerous awards and is popular within the scientific community. Doudna, a biochemist known for her pioneering work on genome editing, has won numerous awards for her work. Sternberg, a biochemist and genome expert, runs a research laboratory at Columbia University.

A Crack in Creation relays the brief history of a genome-editing tool known as CRISPR, or “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.” CRISPR is a DNA structure found in bacteria that scientists now understand plays a crucial role in immune defense. Within these DNA structures is a gene known as Cas9. Cas9 can “cut” through strands of DNA and alter it. Scientists believe they can use CRISPR/Cas9 to alter human DNA structures. Although A Crack in Creation contains a lot of scientific language and detailed technical discussions, it is still accessible to the average reader simply looking for more information on the subject.

Doudna reflects on what it means to be responsible for discovering CRISPR, and what the future holds for genetic science. She cautions the scientific community against abusing the technology, reminding us that even the smallest genetic change can have sweeping, unforeseen consequences for future generations. CRISPR, Doudna argues, is a new weapon in the fight against cancer—so long as we use the technology responsibly. CRISPR is still in its infancy, and Doudna urges scientists to work together to develop its application ethically and safely. Despite these warnings, Doudna, nevertheless, acknowledges that her discovery is an exciting and major leap forward in genetic science.

In the first part of the book, “The Tool,” Doudna talks about the years between 2006 and 2016, from when she first encountered genome editing to her initial experiments on CRISPR. She explains that she has always been fascinated by natural changes in the genome—changes that randomly cure patients of genetic diseases. This fascination led her to the University of California, where she first learned about CRISPR. She describes the many setbacks she experienced along the way before she successfully fused CRISPR with the Cas9 enzyme. She credits the other scientists and researchers who helped her, and she includes a timeline to show that her team discovered the tool before any other. This is important as the rights to the CRISPR patents are currently being disputed. Doudna only briefly mentions the patent issue for legal reasons.

The second part of the book, “The Task,” explores the ways we may use CRISPR in the future and the challenges awaiting us. Doudna explains that we can harness this technology for everything from agriculture to healthcare – the possibilities are endless. It is important to ensure that any research around CRISPR is transparent and easily accessible, and the scientific community must remain accountable for any decisions it makes. As a scientist, Doudna admits that she prefers dealing with the technical questions rather than the concerns around the social, moral, and ethical use of CRISPR. She explains that, just as CRISPR may benefit humanity, it can also spell our downfall if we use it ineffectively. She believes that CRISPR and genome editing is the hardest ethical test humanity will face in the coming ages. She compares CRISPR to nuclear technology, in that it can’t be forgotten about or undiscovered.

A Crack in Creation does not advocate reproductive genome editing. Doudna firmly believes that we know far too little about the human genetic code to tamper with embryos. Altering the genomes of future generations may cause catastrophic and irreversible changes to our genetic codes, and we must question whether we should take this risk just because “we can.”

By working across so many disciplines, from biochemistry to bioethics, A Crack in Creation demonstrates that the distinctions between scientific fields are no longer clear-cut. Cross-disciplinary collaboration is the future of science, and we can no longer think about scientific discoveries without also considering their ethical, societal, and moral implications. Doudna urges the scientific community to work closely with the general public and policymakers.
A Crack in Creation reminds us how important scientific research is, and how it must be protected at all costs. Scientific research must be properly regulated, adequately funded, and supported by everyone. With the right support, scientists like Doudna can benefit millions of lives for generations to come.

The purpose of A Crack in Creation is to celebrate this scientific discovery and educate people about what it means for our future. The central premise is that, although we can control evolution, discovering the technology is only the first step. Just because we know how to manipulate the human genome doesn’t mean that we should.