The long-awaited story of the science, the business, the politics, the intrigue behind the scenes of the most ferocious competition in the history of modern science—the race to map the human genome.
On May 10, 1998, biologist Craig Venter, director of the Institute for Genomic Research, announced that he was forming a private company that within three years would unravel the complete genetic code of human life—seven years before the projected finish of the U.S. government’s Human Genome Project. Venter hoped that by decoding the genome ahead of schedule, he would speed up the pace of biomedical research and save the lives of thousands of people. He also hoped to become very famous and very rich. Calling his company Celera (from the Latin for “speed”), he assembled a small group of scientists in an empty building in Rockville, Maryland, and set to work.
At the same time, the leaders of the government program, under the direction of Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, began to mobilize an unexpectedly unified effort to beat Venter to the prize—knowledge that had the potential to revolutionize medicine and society.
The stage was set for one of the most thrilling—and important—dramas in the history of science. The Genome War is the definitive account of that drama—the race for the greatest prize biology has had to offer, told by a writer with exclusive access to Venter’s operation from start to finish. It is also the story of how one man’s ambition created a scientific Camelot where, for a moment, it seemed that the competing interests of pure science and commercial profit might be gloriously reconciled—and the national repercussions that resulted when that dream went awry.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Genome War|
|Release Date: 12-18-2007|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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The Genome War
MAY 1998: "YOU CAN DO MOUSE"
On May 8 of that year, three months before the Nantucket race, Nicholas Wade, a veteran science writer for the New York Times, entered the lobby of the St. Regis hotel on Fifth Avenue. The day before, he had received a call from a public relations representative of the Perkin Elmer Corporation in suburban Connecticut, offering him an exclusive story on an exciting development. Wade was leery. Public relations people often overestimate the media interest in their company's announcements. In the brash, upstart world of biotechnology, moreover, Perkin Elmer was an unglamorous player-a maker of instruments, not news. But the PR rep mentioned that Craig Venter was a player in the new enterprise. Wade knew that Venter would not be involved in anything unglamorous. He agreed to meet with Perkin Elmer's executives over breakfast.
Wade crossed the lobby and squeezed into an elevator just as its doors began to close. A slightly built, mild-mannered Englishman in his fifties, the Times reporter attracted little attention from the dark-suited businessmen already in the elevator. In the Perkin Elmer suite on the fourteenth floor, he was introduced to CEO Tony White and two other company executives. One was Peter Barrett. The other was Michael Hunkapiller, head of Perkin Elmer's Applied Biosystems division, near San Francisco. Wade knew him by reputation. Largely unknown outside the biotech world, Hunkapiller was a legend within it. In the late 1980s, he had co-invented a machine that could automatically sequence DNA-that is, read out the order of a short stretch of chemical letters in the genetic code. Since then his technical genius and business