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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Nicholas Wade, one of our best science journalists, turns his attention to the brave new world of genomic engineering and germline therapy. Drawing on articles published in The New York Times, he writes about the dawning of the genomic revolution and explains how this new knowledge is likely to transform medicine and human health.
The genome is more than a sequence. It is a means of reorienting biology and medicine, and of accelerating the pace of discovery in all the biomedical sciences. It provides the basis for explaining and integrating all knowledge about the human body. In the future, researchers will hopefully be less dependent on chance, and the so-called "happy accidents" of an earlier era of scientific discovery will be replaced by proactive research. Scientists will have the ability to develop vaccines and antibiotics based on scans that search for weak points in the genetic defenses of pathogens.
Wade shares the fascinating events that led to the genome era, and the prospects it holds for the future. At the same time he asks the important questions for the future that keep ethicists as well as scientists awake at night: How far could health-giving qualities be enhanced before human nature itself is altered? How far should we go in enhancing qualities other than health? How far should life span be extended, given finite resources? James Watson, a passionate proponent of genomic/germline engineering, has been quoted as saying that the biggest ethical problem we face is not using our knowledge; he believes that it's common sense to try to develop it. At the same time, Ward raises the point that this brand of engineering will not succeed unless public demand is overwhelming. Will we ever reach the point where the public agrees with Watson's argument that the biggest ethical failure would be not pushing our capabilities to the limit?
Life Script is a heady book. I await the sequel with eager anticipation. (Judith Estrine)