Synopses & Reviews
The triumphant true story of the man who achieved one of the greatest feats of our erathe mapping of the human genome.
Growing up in California, Craig Venter didnt appear to have much of a future. An unremarkable student, he nearly flunked out of high school. After being drafted into the army, he enlisted in the navy and went to Vietnam, where the life and death struggles he encountered as a medic piqued his interest in science and medicine. After pursuing his advanced degrees, Venter quickly established himself as a brilliant and outspoken scientist. In 1984 he joined the National Institutes of Health, where he introduced novel techniques for rapid gene discovery, and left in 1991 to form his own nonprofit genomics research center, where he sequenced the first genome in history in 1995. In 1998 he announced that he would successfully sequence the human genome years earlier, and for far less money, than the government-sponsored Human Genome Project would a prediction he kept in 2001.
A Life Decoded is the triumphant story of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in science today. In his riveting and inspiring account Venter tells of the unparalleled drama of the quest for the human genome, a tale that involves as much politics (personal and political) as science. He also reveals how he went on to be the first to read and interpret his own genome and what it will mean for all of us to do the same. He describes his recent sailing expedition to sequence microbial life in the ocean, as well as his groundbreaking attempt to create synthetic life. Here is one of the key scientific chronicles of our lifetime, as told by the man who beat the odds to make it happen.
"'A great deal has been written about Venter as the head of Celera, the private research company that won a race with the National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Project to sequence the human genome. His role in this historic accomplishment has been both vilified and praised. Now, in a clumsily written autobiography, Venter offers his side of the story, portraying himself as the eternal underdog, fighting for truth and attempting to make scientific discoveries solely to help others. He is opposed in this struggle by a cadre of scientists out to advance their own careers, by a federal bureaucracy incapable of rationally using public funds to promote scientific advances and by the heads of corporations willing to do almost anything to make money. Venter accuses all of the big players the Human Genome Project's Frances Collins and Nobel laureate James Watson, among many others of outright dishonesty. Ignore the hyperbole and be skeptical of the accusations, but there's still a terribly depressing story about the politics of big science. Venter also attempts to contextualize the controversy swirling around the patenting of DNA sequences. Despite the lack of unbiased insight, this is well worth reading for the fascinating perspective it offers on one of the major scientific discoveries of all time.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
With Venter, there must always be something new swelling on the horizon . . . he alone is taking the measure of lifes true diversity and dreaming up new life-forms at the same time.
[Venter is] not just trying to understand how life works; hes trying to make it work for him, and us.
The Atlantic Monthly
“Rutherford tells the epic history of life on Earth and eloquently argues the case for embracing technology that allows us to become biological designers.”
—ALICE ROBERTS, broadcaster for the BBC, professor of public engagement in science at the University of Birmingham
“Just as the last century was regarded as the golden age of physics, so it is becoming increasingly clear that the twenty-first is the century of biology. This book is the perfect ‘story so far.”
—JIM AL-KHALILI, broadcaster for the BBC, professor of physics at the University of Surrey, and author of Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics
“A superbly written explanation of how the origin of life on Earth became a question for science and what the answer might be.”
—BRIAN COX, broadcaster for the BBC, professor of physics at the University of Manchester, and author of Why Does E=mc²?
“Suddenly science is close to understanding the Indian rope trick by which life emerged from non-life four billion years ago. Adam Rutherford has written an engaging account of both the mystery and its impending resolution; he has also provided a fascinating glimpse of the impending birth of a new, synthetic biology.”
—MATT RIDLEY, author of Genome
“A witty, engaging and eye-opening explanation of the basic units of life, right back to our common ancestors and on to their incredible synthetic future. The mark of a really good science book, it shows that the questions we still have are just as exciting as the answers we already know.”
—DARA Ó BRIAIN, comedian
“A crisp, beguiling and rigorous book…”
—Los Angeles Times
“Combining superb science writing with a refreshing wit, Rutherford does an excellent job of bringing genomics and synthetic biology to life in this accessible overview of the past and future of the fields.... Theres much to savor here—even in the footnotes.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Rutherford makes his case with contagious enthusiasm… Genuinely amazing biology is in the works, and Rutherford delivers a fascinating overview.”
“Engaging… May it augur many more topdrawer science books by Rutherford.”
— Booklist (starred)
"Prepare to be astounded. There are moments when this book is so gripping it reads like a thriller."
—The Mail on Sunday (UK)
"Suspenseful, erudite and thrilling."
—The Prospect (UK)
"One of the most eloquent and genuinely thoughtful books on science over the past decade."
—The Observer (UK)
"Fascinating ... The extraordinary science and his argument are worth every reader's scrutiny."
—The Sunday Telegraph (UK)
In this triumphant true story of one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in science today, Venter tells of the unparalleled drama in the quest to map the human genome--a tale that involves as much politics as science. 16-page b&w photo insert.
The triumphant memoir of the man behind one of the greatest feats in scientific history
Of all the scientific achievements of the past century, perhaps none can match the deciphering of the human genetic code, both for its technical brilliance and for its implications for our future. In A Life Decoded, J. Craig Venter traces his rise from an uninspired student to one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in science today. Here, Venter relates the unparalleled drama of the quest to decode the human genome?a goal he predicted he could achieve years earlier and more cheaply than the government-sponsored Human Genome Project, and one that he fulfilled in 2001. A thrilling story of detection, A Life Decoded is also a revealing, and often troubling, look at how science is practiced today.
How scientists are closer than ever to not only uncovering the mystery of how life was created, but to replicating that moment
Within the first billion years after this planet formed, a spark of life spontaneously ignited, turning inanimate chemicals into what we now would recognize as a living thing: a cell. Four billion years later, science has catalogued more than a million species. Science writer Adam Rutherford shows how unprecedented advances in our understanding of life have equipped us with the ability to create entirely new life-forms: goats that produce spider silk in their milk, bacteria that excrete diesel, genetic codes that identify and destroy cancer cells. This new synthetic biology is poised to offer radical new solutions to the crises of food shortage, pandemic disease, and climate change. By charting the history of our evolution, questioning what life really is, and identifying the milestones in our understanding of biological processes, Rutherford shows how this frontier of science will kickstart an industrial revolution that will dominate the rest of this century.
What is life?
Humans have been asking this question for thousands of years. But as technology has advanced and our understanding of biology has deepened, the answer has evolved. For decades, scientists have been exploring the limits of nature by modifying and manipulating DNA, cells and whole organisms to create new ones that could never have existed on their own.
In Creation, science writer Adam Rutherford explains how we are now radically exceeding the boundaries of evolution and engineering entirely novel creaturesfrom goats that produce spider silk in their milk to bacteria that excrete diesel to genetic circuits that identify and destroy cancer cells. As strange as some of these creations may sound, this new, synthetic biology is helping scientists develop radical solutions to some of the worlds most pressing crisesfrom food shortages to pandemic disease to climate changeand is paving the way for inventions once relegated to science fiction.
Meanwhile, these advances are shedding new light on the biggest mystery of allhow did life begin? We know that every creature on Earth came from a single cell, sparked into existence four billion years ago. And as we come closer and closer to understanding the ancient root that connects all living things, we may finally be able to achieve a second genesisthe creation of new life where none existed before.
Creation takes us on a journey four billion years in the makingfrom the very first cell to the ground-breaking biological inventions that will shape the future of our planet.
About the Author
ADAM RUTHERFORD is a science writer and broadcaster. He is an editor at Nature, writes for the Guardian and regularly presents programs for BBC Radio 4 in the UK. He has also presented several acclaimed science series for BBC television, including the award winning three-part series The Cell. A geneticist by training, he has a PhD from University College London.