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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-08-24 05:43
Hacking the Code of Life: How gene editing will rewrite our futures by Nessa Carey
Hacking the Code of Life: How gene editing will rewrite our futures - Nessa Carey

TITLE: Hacking the Code of Life: How Gene Editing Will Rewrite Our Futures


AUTHOR: Nessa Carey




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  9781785784972



"Just 45 years ago, the age of gene modification was born. Researchers could create glow-in-the-dark mice, farmyard animals producing drugs in their milk, and vitamin-enhanced rice that could prevent half a million people going blind every year.

But now GM is rapidly being supplanted by a new system called CRISPR or ‘gene editing’. Using this approach, scientists can manipulate the genes of almost any organism with a degree of precision, ease and speed that we could only dream of ten years ago.

But is it ethical to change the genetic material of organisms in a way that might be passed on to future generations? If a person is suffering from a lethal genetic disease, is it even more unethical to deny them this option? Who controls the application of this technology, when it makes ‘biohacking’ – perhaps of one’s own genome – a real possibility?

Nessa Carey’s book is a thrilling and timely snapshot of a technology that will radically alter our futures.




Nessa Carey has written an introductory, some-what opinionated, easy-to-understand, and rather short book about gene editing.  She covers the basics of the technique, the history, the advantages and occasionally the disadvantages, in terms of medical uses, with several examples.  The book is interesting and informative, but I really wished for more technical details.

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review 2020-02-19 06:40
Adapt by Amina Khan
Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping into Nature's Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future - Amina Khan

TITLE:  Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping into Nature's Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future


TITLE:  Amina Khan


FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781250060402



"Amina Khan believes that nature does it best. In Adapt, she presents fascinating examples of how nature effortlessly solves the problems that humans attempt to solve with decades worth of the latest and greatest technologies, time, and money. Humans are animals too, and animals are incredibly good at doing more with less.

If a fly’s eye can see without hundreds of fancy lenses, and termite mounds can stay cool in the desert without air conditioning, it stands to reason that nature can teach us a thing or two about sustainable technology and innovation. In Khan’s accessible voice, these complex concepts are made simple. There is so much we humans can learn from nature’s billions of years of productive and efficient evolutionary experience. This field is growing rapidly and everyone from architects to biologists to nano-technicians to engineers are paying attention. Results from the simplest tasks, creating velcro to mimic the sticking power of a burr, to the more complex like maximizing wind power by arranging farms to imitate schools of fish can make a difference and inspire future technological breakthroughs.

Adapt shares the weird and wonderful ways that nature has been working smarter and not harder, and how we can too to make billion dollar cross-industrial advances in the very near future.




An interesting, but brief, popular overview of some new and/or improved technologies that resulted (or are in development) from studying nature (usually animals).  Topics include material science, mechanics of movement, architecture of systems, and sustainability.  Any scientific or engineering concepts that crop up are nicely and simply explained.  An easy and informative read, though I have come across some of the examples covered in other books.  Some diagrams/photographs/illustrations would really be useful in books like this.

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review 2019-05-22 08:51
The Re-Origin of Species by Torill Kornfeldt
The Re-Origin of Species: a second chance for extinct animals - Torill Kornfeldt,Fiona Graham

TITLE:  The Re-Origin of Species: A Second Chance For Extinct Animals


AUTHOR:  Torill Kornfeldt        


TRANSLATOR:  Fiona Graham




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  9781911617228



"What does a mammoth smell like? Do dinosaurs bob their heads as they walk, like today’s birds? Do aurochs moo like cows? You may soon find out.

From the Siberian permafrost to the Californian desert, scientists across the globe are working to resurrect all kinds of extinct animals, from ones that just left us to those that have been gone for many thousands of years. Their tools in this hunt are the fossil record and cutting-edge genetic technologies. Some of these scientists are driven by sheer curiosity; others view the lost species as a powerful weapon in the fight to preserve rapidly changing ecosystems.

It seems certain that these animals will walk the earth again, but what world will that give us? And is any of this a good idea? Science journalist Torill Kornfeldt travelled the globe to meet the men and women working to bring these animals back from the dead and answer these questions.




An interesting, easy to read, if somewhat superficial, journey around the globe to explore what geneticists are up to in terms of reviving, cloning, storing or otherwise fiddling with the genetics of extinct and almost extinct animals and plants in order to aid in conservation efforts or to recreate the extinct animal.  The author also covers the ethics of using genetic engineering in various ways.  This book doesn't cover anything new (except the conservation of trees) that hasn't been covered by other books on the same topic.  A nice, easy, informative read.




- Rise of the Necrofauna:  A Provocative Look at the Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction by Britt Wray [General]


-  Bring Back the King:  The New Science of De-Extinction by Helen Pilcher [General]


- Resurrection Science:  Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O'Connor [focus on conservation]


- The Fall of the Wild - Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation by Ben A. Minteer [focus on ethics and conservation]


- How to Clone a Mammoth:  The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro [focus on the science and ethics]





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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-09 08:51
Biopunk by Marcus Wohlsen
Biopunk: Kitchen-Counter Scientists Hack the Software of Life - Marcus Wohlsen

TITLE:  Biopunk: Kitchen-Counter Scientists Hack the Software of Life


AUTHOR:  Marcus Wohlsen




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9781617230028




"The most disruptive force on the planet resides in DNA. Biotech companies and academic researchers are just beginning to unlock the potential of piecing together life from scratch. Champions of synthetic biology believe that turning genetic code into Lego-like blocks to build never-before-seen organisms could solve the thorniest challenges in medicine, energy, and environmental protection. But as the hackers who cracked open the potential of the personal computer and the Internet proved, the most revolutionary discoveries often emerge from out-of-the-way places, forged by brilliant outsiders with few resources besides boundless energy and great ideas.

In Biopunk, Marcus Wohlsen chronicles a growing community of DIY scientists working outside the walls of corporations and universities who are committed to democratizing DNA the way the Internet did information. The "biohacking" movement, now in its early, heady days, aims to unleash an outbreak of genetically modified innovation by making the tools and techniques of biotechnology accessible to everyone. Borrowing their idealism from the worlds of open-source software, artisinal food, Internet startups, and the Peace Corps, biopunks are devoted advocates for open-sourcing the basic code of life. They believe in the power of individuals with access to DNA to solve the world's biggest problems.

You'll meet a new breed of hackers who aren't afraid to get their hands wet, from entrepreneurs who aim to bring DNA-based medical tools to the poorest of the poor to a curious tinkerer who believes a tub of yogurt and a jellyfish gene could protect the world's food supply. These biohackers include:

-A duo who started a cancer drug company in their kitchen
-A team who built an open-source DNA copy machine
-A woman who developed a genetic test in her apartment for a deadly disease that had stricken her family

Along with the potential of citizen science to bring about disruptive change, Wohlsen explores the risks of DIY bioterrorism, the possibility of genetic engineering experiments gone awry, and whether the ability to design life from scratch on a laptop might come sooner than we think. "





Biopunk provides an engaging look at what a variety of scientists are doing in their garages or kitchens without backing from universities or wealthy corporations.  Of course, some of the contents of the book (published 2011) will be outdated by now, but it still makes for interesting reading.  Wohlsen examines how and why these DIY scientists are doing what they are doing - this usually involves working beyond the restrictings involved in the extremely expensive specialized equioment, as well as the politics and rigid  environment of universities and biotech corporations.  This book also briefly deals with the potential consequences and challenges that are part and parcel of this type of citizen science.  The organisation is a bit erratic and the topics covered lacked depth - the science is explained in rather simplistic terms.  Each chapter of the book comes across as a separate essay or article about a specific DIY hacker, along with the obligatory interview.  The book is written by a journalist, which means you get more human interest stories than a detailed look at exactly what is going on in the kitchen/garage.  

I did find the chapter on Indian farmers "hacking" Monsantos GMO seed stock the old fashioned way rather interesting and amusing.  The farmers saved the seeds produced by the GMO plants, crossed them with seeds native to India, saved and then traded the resulting native seeds which in the end produced plants that could cope better in the local conditions than the expensive GMO seeds.  And they did all this without paying a licensing fee.  Of course, Monsanto wasn't happy about this, but due to lack of regulation and motivation by the Indian government to do anything about this "theft" and hacking of GMO seeds, Monsanto couldn't do anything about it.

If you are looking for inspirational stories of citizen scienctists experimenting with DNA in the garage, this book may interest you.  In terms of in-depth science this book is rather lacking.

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review 2019-01-14 09:28
Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl
Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity - Jamie Frederic Metzl

TITLE:   Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity


AUTHOR:  Jamie Metzl






ISBN-13:  9781492670094



" After 3.8 billion years humankind is about to start evolving by new rules...

From leading geopolitical expert and technology futurist Jamie Metzl comes a groundbreaking exploration of the many ways genetic-engineering is shaking the core foundations of our lives -- sex, war, love, and death.

At the dawn of the genetics revolution, our DNA is becoming as readable, writable, and hackable as our information technology. But as humanity starts retooling our own genetic code, the choices we make today will be the difference between realizing breathtaking advances in human well-being and descending into a dangerous and potentially deadly genetic arms race.

Enter the laboratories where scientists are turning science fiction into reality. Look towards a future where our deepest beliefs, morals, religions, and politics are challenged like never before and the very essence of what it means to be human is at play. When we can engineer our future children, massively extend our lifespans, build life from scratch, and recreate the plant and animal world, should we?

Passionate, provocative, and highly illuminating, Hacking Darwin is the must read book about the future of our species for fans of Homo Deus and The Gene.





Hacking Darwin takes a look at the current status of genetic engineering, as well as the possible and probable future uses of these tools, ethics, and the future of humanity.  Metzl has written an engaging, fascinating and thought-provoking book that focuses on the fast approaching and inevitable (and exiting) genetic revolution, with clear explanations of the tools involved and the consequences of their use.  The writing is clear, explanations accurate and not too technical for the general interested reader.

This book covers a vast array of topics that fall under the genetic engineering umbrella.  He starts off with the history of genetic research, IVF, genetic screening; and continues with the relationship between genetics, diseases, traits, the environment; AI tools to process complex genetic patters; the pros and cons of the genetic engineering tools; "designer babies"; stem-cell research; mitochondrial disease; multiple donar babies; gene-editing tools such as CRISPR;  gene-therapy; safety issues and challenges to the current technology; chimeras; organ transplants; synthetic biology; aging; the ethics and responsibility of using genetic engineering tool; our relationship with nature; GMOs; the arms race of the human race; and finaly, the furture of humanity.

Metzl states that his intent is to inform the public about the genetic revolution so that we can "make the smartest collective decisions about our war forward... to understand what is happening and what's at stake."  Genetic entineering is a tool.  The genetic revolution has the potential to improve lives or do great harm.  The future of humanity depends on how we use it. 


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