The past year has seen a flood of articles commemorating the end of the Cold War, and the fact that "peace" seems to be breaking out in many regions of the world. Most of these analyses lack any larger conceptual framework for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, and are predictably superficial.
January 25, There is something mesmerizing about an evil genius at the height of their craft, and Eric Lander is an evil genius at the height of his craft. CRISPR, for those of you who do not know, is an anti-viral immune system found in archaea and bacteria, that until a few years ago, was all but unknown outside the small group of scientists, mostly microbiologists, who had been studying it since its discovery a quarter century ago.
The most high-profile of these battles pit Berkeley against the Broad Institute, although researchers from many other institutions made important contributions. But this could all soon change. I also stand to benefit professionally if the patents are awarded to Berkeley, as my department will get a portion of what are likely to be significant proceeds I have no personal stake in any CRISPR-related patents or companies.
But I if I had my way, there would be no winner in either of these fights. We should celebrate the long series of discoveries and inventions that brought CRISPR to the forefront of science, and all the people who participated in them, rather than trying to decide which three were the most important.
Nonetheless, these fights are underway.
Which beings us back to Dr. Note also how he distorted the map of the world so that the Broad lies almost perfectly in the center. What happened to Iceland and Greenland? How did Europe get so far south and so close to North America?
And what happened to the rest of the world? For the past decade, researchers, including Zhang, have been using proteins — zinc finger nucleases and TALENs — engineered to cut DNA in specific places to carry out genome editing in a variety of different systems.
Once you have that, the application to human cells, while not trivial, is obvious and straightforward.
I want to be clear that in arguing against giving exclusive credit to Zhang, I am not arguing for singular credit to go to any other single group, as I think this does not do justice to the way science works.
But if you are going to engage in this kind of silliness, one should at least endeavor to do it honestly. Here is where his evil genius kicks in. Instead of taking Doudna and Charpentier on directly, he did something much more clever: This was an evil genius move for several reasons: First, the people whose work Lander writes about really are deserving of credit for pioneered the study of CRISPR, and they really have been unfairly written out of the history in most stories in the popular and even scientific press.
This established Lander as the good guy, standing up to defend the forgotten scientists, toiling in off-the-beaten-path places. They are given abbreviated biographies compared to the other scientists he discusses. The example of Gasuinas and Siksnys is a good one for showing how unfair the system we have for doling out credit, accolades and intellectual property in science can be.
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The most prominent example of this is the pitched battle for credit for sequencing the human genome, in which Lander time and time again tried to rewrite history to paint the public genome project, and his role in it, in the most favorable light.
After all Lander is hardly the first scientist to twist the truth in the name of glory and riches. But what makes this such a tragedy for me is that, in so many ways, Lander represents the best of science.
He is a mathematician turned biologist who has turned his attention to some of the most pressing problems in modern biomedicine. Nobody, no matter how powerful and brilliant they are is above it. And when the most powerful scientist on Earth treats the truth with such disdain, they become the greatest scientific villain of them all.IN WATCHING the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history.
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