Department Of Good Reads
Checkout The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson. Doudna is the American biochemist who, along with French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their ground-breaking development of a method for genome editing (CRISPR).
Author Isaacson frames Doudna’s story with a statement the author makes as a fact (which could be disputed) about what he calls the three great revolutions of modern times:
“The invention of CRISPR and the plague of COVID will hasten our transition to the third great revolution of modern times. These revolutions arose from the discovery, beginning just over a century ago, of the three fundamental kernels of our existence: the atom, the bit, and the gene.”
Revolution one, Isaacson posits, occurred in the first half of the 20th century. This was the atom-centered revolution, driven by physics and Einstein’ papers and theories, with the resulting developments of the atomic bomb, nuclear power, transistors and spaceships and laser and radar.
The second half of the 20th century gave us the information-based technology (the bit-centered revolution), based on the idea that all information could be encoded by binary digits…which led to the microchip, the computer, and the internet, the three of which combined to make “the digital revolution.”
The third revolution began in the late 20th century, and we are in the midst of it now: the gene-centered, “life-science revolution,” wherein “…children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.”
I’m midway through the book, which is quite a good read, if I do say so moiself.  Despite the author’s layperson-friendly presentation I find I must take frequent “brain breaks” to process the information presented.  I enjoy the weaving of Doudna’s story with the history of the eccentric, brilliant, and creative – and also competitive, back-biting, and oft times greedy and uncooperative and ungenerous (surprise!) – scientists working in the fields of gene and DNA research. Sadly/frustratingly, as when one delves into the history of any scientific field, these stories include how female scientists’ discoveries and contributions were hijacked and/or mis-credited (by and to male colleagues), as in the case of biochemist Rosalind Franklin’s work in X-ray crystallography.. Franklin’s extensive x-ray work,  which was initially used by fellow DNA researchers Francis Crick and James Watson without her permission (“photo 51“), led to the understanding and deciphering of the DNA’s double helix-complementary base pair structure. Crick and Watson and another (male) colleague of theirs were to receive the Noble Prize (“…re Franklin and the Nobel Prize she never won, even Watson begrudgingly says that she should have gotten it. ‘ “) 
Yet again, I digress.
The author’s opening premise struck me as quite profound: the idea that three miniscule “units” (atom; bit; gene) led and are leading to colossal scientific and cultural changes. Moiself shared this with MH, who took issue (picked a nit?) with the idea that the “bit” is a discovery (isn’t it more of an invention?). So, what thinketh y’all? Are those three an adequate encapsulation of the “revolutions” of the past century? Would you add (or subtract) others?
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Department Of Quote Of The Week
Sue Black, Scottish forensic scientist, anthropologist, and professor, is the honored source of this quote, as per her appearance on the most recent Clear + Vivid podcast. ( “Sue Black, Forensic Supersleuth ” ).
Podcast host Alan Alda asked Black about the process of interviewing people who want to donate their body to scientific research. Black tries to speak with people who sign anatomical donation forms as part of her teaching empathy – as well as respect for such “a profound gift” – to her anatomy and dissection students. What are some of reasons people have given, Alda asked? A variety of reasons, as it turns out: from gratitude for scientific and medical advances that helped them or a loved one; or wanting to be part of a scientific/medical field but never able to do so, and this is their way of taking part….etcetera. Then Black shared one of her favorite stories.
“I had the most *gorgeous* lady who came into my office one afternoon. She must have been in her seventies and she was literally dressed to the nines – she had the makeup and she had the jewelry, and I said to her, ‘Why would you want to donate your body?’ and she looked at me and she said,
‘Quite frankly, young woman, *this* is just too good to burn!’ “
In the end of the C+V podcasts, host Alda asks his guests “Seven Quick Questions” that have some connection with communication. Black said, in response to the question, “What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?” that the strange questions she gets are usually in regard to what she wants to do regarding her own death. Black said that because of what she does she has no fear of death; she attributed that attitude in part to the fact that her grandmother taught her that “death is your friend that walks along side you all of your life,” and so “…you’d better get to know her and make a friend of her because she’s not going away and eventually is going to be there at the end.” Black told her family that she wants her body to be donated to the anatomy department to be dissected, and wants her bone to be retained,
“…and if they could string my skeleton up, then I could be an articulated skeleton, in my dissection room, teaching for the rest of my death.
I have no intention of ever stopping working, and death is not going to get in the way of that.”
Three days later I am still marveling at that. Especially as we age, we are so often asked what we intend to do “with the rest of your life.” What a beautiful and unique viewpoint, to think of what you’ll be doing for the rest of your death.
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Punz For The Day
A mad scientist drugged, kidnapped, and experimented on me,
replacing my arms with a Grizzly’s paws.
If I see him again I’ll tear him apart with my bear hands.
Geneticist: “We have your test results; I’m afraid your DNA is backwards.”
Advertisers should use pictures of the 23rd chromosome pair in their commercials.
Because, you know, sex cells.
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May you forever be “too good to burn;”
May you marvel at the atom-bit-gene revolutions;
May you ponder what to do with the rest of your life…and death;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
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 And I just did.
 And keep all the names straight, from the scientists to the names of the organisms and processes they study.