A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

by Jennifer Doudna, Samuel Sternberg

Available 06/13/2017

A trailblazing biologist grapples with her role in the biggest scientific discovery of our era: a cheap, easy way of rewriting genetic code, with nearly limitless promise and peril.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544716940
  • ISBN-10: 0544716949
  • Pages: 304
  • Publication Date: 06/13/2017
  • Carton Quantity: 12

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About the Book
About the Authors
  • About the Book
    A trailblazing biologist grapples with her role in the biggest scientific discovery of our era: a cheap, easy way of rewriting genetic code, with nearly limitless promise and peril. 


    Not since the atomic bomb has a technology so alarmed its inventors that they warned the world about its use. Not, that is, until the spring of 2015, when biologist Jennifer Doudna called for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the new gene-editing tool CRISPR—a revolutionary new technology that she helped create—to make heritable changes in human embryos. The cheapest, simplest, most effective way of manipulating DNA ever known, CRISPR may well give us the cure to HIV, genetic diseases, and some cancers, and will help address the world’s hunger crisis. Yet even the tiniest changes to DNA could have myriad, unforeseeable consequences—to say nothing of the ethical and societal repercussions of intentionally mutating embryos to create “better” humans. 


    Writing with fellow researcher Samuel Sternberg, Doudna shares the thrilling story of her discovery, and passionately argues that enormous responsibility comes with the ability to rewrite the code of life. With CRISPR, she shows, we have effectively taken control of evolution. What will we do with this unfathomable power? 


  • About the Author
  • Excerpts




    In my dream, I am standing on a beach. 

       To either side of me, a long, salt-and-pepper strip of sand runs along the water, outlining a large bay. It is, I realize, the shore of the island of Hawaii where I grew up: the edge of Hilo Bay, where I once spent weekends with friends watching canoe races and searching for shells and the glass balls that sometimes washed ashore from Japanese fishing boats. 

       But today there are no friends, canoes, or fishing boats in sight. The beach is empty, the sand and water unnaturally still. Beyond the break-water, light plays gently along the surface of the ocean, as if to soothe the fear I’ve carried since girlhood  — the dread that haunts every Hiloan, no matter how young. My generation grew up without experiencing a tsunami, but we have all seen the photos. We know our town sits in the inundation zone. 

       As if on cue, I see it in the distance. A wave. 

       It is tiny at first but grows by the second, rising before me in a towering wall, its crest of whitecaps obscuring the sky. Behind it are other waves, all rolling toward the shore. 

       I am paralyzed with fear  —  but as the tsunami looms closer, my terror gives way determination. I notice a small wooden shack behind me. It is my friend Pua’s place, with a pile of surfboards scattered out front. I grab one and splash into the water, paddle out into the bay, round the breakwater, and head directly into the oncoming waves. Before the first one overtakes me, I’m able to duck through it, and when I emerge on the other side, I surf down the second. As I do, I soak in the view. The sight is amazing  —  there’s Mauna Kea and, beyond it, Mauna Loa, rising protectively above the bay and reaching toward the sky. 

       I blink awake in my Berkeley, California, bedroom, thousands of miles away from my childhood home. 

       It is July 2015, and I am in the middle of the most exciting, overwhelming year of my life. I’ve begun having dreams like this regularly, and the recognition of their deeper meaning comes easily now. The beach is a mirage, but the waves, and the tangle of emotions they inspire  —  fear, exultation, hope, and awe  —  are only too real. 

       My name is Jennifer Doudna. I am a biochemist, and I have spent the majority of my career in a laboratory, conducting research on topics that most people outside of my field have never heard of. In the past half decade, however, I have become involved in a groundbreaking area of the life sciences, a subject whose progress cannot be contained by the four walls of any academic research center. My colleagues and I have been swept up by an irresistible force not unlike the tsunami in my dream  —   except this tidal wave is one that I helped trigger. 

       By the summer of 2015, the biotechnology that I’d helped establish only a few years before was growing at a pace that I could not have imagined. And its implications were seismic  —  not just for the life sciences, but for all life on earth. 

       This book is its story, and mine. It is also yours. Because it won’t be long before the repercussions from this technology reach your doorstep too. 


  • Reviews
    "An enthusiastic and definitely not dumbed-down account of gene manipulation that, unlike earlier methods, is precise and easy...an important book about a major scientific advance." 

    Kirkus Reviews, STARRED 


    "A Crack in Creation is a powerful testament to the role of curiosity and tenacity in scientific research, and also an urgent plea from the celebrated biologist whose discovery enabled us to rewrite the code of life.  The future is in our hands as never before, and this book explains the stakes like no other." 

    —George Lucas, filmmaker  


    “Urgent, riveting, and endlessly fascinating, A Crack in Creation is a journey through the past, present, and future of one of biology’s most significant discoveries. Combining deep historical perspectives, personal narrative, and scientific data, Doudna and Sternberg bring the story of CRISPR and ‘gene editing’ alive with pointed honesty and clarity. This book is destined to become an instant classic. Read it and understand its implications if you want to understand our biological future.” 

    —Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Gene and The Emperor of All Maladies 


    "The technology of gene editing will be the most important advance of our era, one that will create astonishing opportunities combined with frightening moral challenges. In the tradition of The Double Helix, one of the pioneers of the field describes the exciting collaborative and competitive hunt for the key breakthrough and what it portends for our future." 

    —Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Steve Jobs, Einstein, and The Innovators 


    A Crack in Creation, by one of the most pioneering women in science, is both exhilarating and frightening. Jennifer Doudna and her co-author Samuel Sternberg challenge us to confront the possible dangers of gene editing, even as we embrace its incredible potential. This book is a roadmap to our future.” 

    —Arianna Huffington, bestselling author of Thrive and The Sleep Revolution 


    “Jennifer Doudna is the true pioneer who built the bridge between the basic science of CRISPR and its diverse applications in agriculture and medicine.  Writing with Samuel Sternberg, she has crafted a beautifully written book with A Crack in Creation—a pure pleasure for both neophyte and expert. Now is the time to read about the revolution that could change our world.” 

    ?—George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and author of Regenesis 


    “We are developing ever more powerful tools that allow us to change the genetic makeup not only of life around us but also of ourselves. Describing the potential benefits of these tools as well as some of the risks and ethical issues they present to society, A Crack inCreation is a scientific thriller and a gripping read, framed as a personal voyage by a brilliant scientist who played a major role in developing what is currently one of the most promising and powerful ways of editing our genomes.” 

    —Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry