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About Walter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson is a Professor of History at Tulane. He is also an advisory partner at Perella Weinberg, a financial services firm based in New York City. Walter is the past CEO of the Aspen Institute, where he is now a Distinguished Fellow. Finally, he has been the chairman of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine.
Isaacson is well-known for his biographical accounts of influential people’s lives. For example, he has written successful biographies on Steve Jobs, Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Kissinger, and DaVinci.
The Code Breaker is the story of a down-to-earth, ordinary scientist who has made remarkable discoveries about our genome. Jennifer Doudna received the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for these discoveries. Isaacson argues that this book is less about Doudna’s life and more about how people make discoveries and how these discoveries become life-changing inventions. It is expected that Doudna’s findings will offer cures to hundreds of life-threatening illnesses.
The Double Helix
Doudna was always a child passionate about school and education. Her specific passion for chemistry, and more precisely the genome, developed in the sixth grade. She came home from school one day to find a book on her bed called “The Double Helix.” Doudna assumed this was a detective book and put it to the side. A few weeks later she decided to give the book a closer look and although it wasn’t the book she expected, in a way it was a detective book. The book was about people trying to find the ultimate mysteries of life. This adventure to find the building blocks of life was filled with colorful characters, strong partnerships and fierce rivalries.
Reading this book inspired Doudna to become a scientist herself. This is in spite of the fact that her career guidance counsellor at school said, “Women don’t become scientists.” Doudna eventually became one of the scientists and discoverers to solve the mystery unsolved within The Double Helix, which was written by James Watson.
CRISPR is the remarkable discovery that Doudna and her colleagues made. It is a system bacteria used for more than a billion years by animals to fight against viruses. When a virus attacks this bacteria they remember a small part of that virus’ code. This means if the virus comes back the bacteria can chop up and kill the virus. It is a system that helps animals to become immune from certain viruses. This is exactly what we needed to provide immunity from last year’s COVID-19, but also many future pandemics. Doudna’s discovery has already helped in the fight to defeat COVID-19. It has also been used to cure genetic diseases like sickle cell anaemia, help tackle cancer and select certain genetic traits in babies. For example, in 2018, a Chinese scientist was able to create the first “designer babies.” In fact, the study edited the genetics of twins. These twins had their genetics edited so they didn’t have the receptor which would make them vulnerable to the virus that causes aids.
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