Reviewing Craig Venter’s new book, Life at the Speed of Light, sent me back to a book I missed in 2004, James Shreve’s The Genome War, detailing the tussle between Venter’s then company Celera and the government-sponsored Human Genome Project for the prize of the complete human genome code. Given the official rhetoric in the year 2000: “Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind” (Bill Clinton), the story is a brilliant inside view of the struggle, seen form the Venter camp (The HGP would not cooperate with Shreeve). Agreeing to a truce in their battle because both sides had weaknesses they preferred not to have exposed to public glare, they both claimed to have finished the genome when by any rational standard they hadn’t. And as we all know now, the “wondrous map” was an ancient hieroglyphic without as yet much of a Rosetta Stone. The real map, the one that makes sense of the 3 billion letters of code is probably a centuries rather than decades long process. In the meantime, read the book and reflect that even when the deepest, most noblest cause is at stake human beings remain mired in their old tribal antipathies and deceptions.
I'm a writer whose interests include the biological revolution happening now, the relationship between art and science, jazz, and the state of the planet