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Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves (edition 2012)

by George M. Church, Ed Regis

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622191,731 (3.85)None
Member:Tod_Christianson
Title:Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves
Authors:George M. Church
Other authors:Ed Regis
Info:Basic Books (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Genetics, Biology

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Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves by George McDonald Church

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Just when I was starting to feel a little self-conscious about my list so far being dominated by graphic novels and children's books, I managed to plow through this tome. Okay, that's an unfair characterization. At times, I was enraptured by this book. I delivered spontaneous lectures to my husband and my co-workers. I posted quotes on Facebook. I engaged in conversation with a cashier who took my money after I spent a lunch period reading voraciously. But to get to these amazing stories, to get to those turns of phrase that were so poetical and profound that I was moved to claim this book as a part of my personal gospel, there was a lot to plow through.

To say this book was uneven would be a master understatement. Church gave himself an ambitious structure -- telling the progress of synthetic biology as a parallel to the processes of natural evolution. It was a wonderful concept, and in the places where it worked it was brilliant. But in other chapters it was so clearly forced that I wished he hadn't bothered. I also found it strange where he chose to explain concepts in great detail (like the chirality of organic molecules) and where there seemed to be no attempt to explain at all (exactly how one obtains sequences of synthetic DNA -- something central to most of the enterprises in his book.) Finally, there are so many mentions of Church's own work, Church's various business start-ups and organizations that eventually it prompted some eye-rolling.

Why, with all this complaining, would I still give this book four out of five stars? Well, because the content is simply amazing. It is hard to walk away from this book and not be awe-struck at what mere mortals have been able to achieve with the tools of science, hopeful for the future, and even a mystical sense of connection with it all. There are amazing stories in here, of synthetic cyanobacteria that can synthesize diesel fuel from the sun, synthetic organisms that can sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in large quantities, scientists working to resurrect species from extinction, possible treatments for cancer, therapies that could render organisms immune to all viruses, and so much more -- an international competition inspiring college students on shoestring budgets to engineer possible solutions to an astonishing variety of problems.

Of course, there are ethical considerations in this work, and there are moments (especially in the very beginning), where Church is annoyingly starry-eyed. But what Church sets out to do here is to impress us with the audacity of his dream. (And how close much of it is to reality!) And I must admit, I'm walking away a little starry-eyed myself. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
This look at synthetic biology, co-written by a preeminent geneticist and a science writer, is a bit too schizophrenic, alternating between gee-whiz popular science and textbook-like detail. Unfortunately, if usually entertainingly, there's also a strong whiff of mad scientist about the book. I think it would scare the bejesus out of my mom. ( )
1 vote wanack | Nov 16, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George McDonald Churchprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Regis, Edmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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A heady overview of the emerging discipline of synthetic biology and the wonders it can produce, from new drugs and vaccines to biofuels and resurrected woolly mammoths. In this authoritative, sometimes awe-inspiring book, geneticist Church and veteran science writer Regis team up to explore how scientists are now altering the nature of living organisms by modifying their genomes, or genetic makeup.… (more)

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