Yaseen Rehman (Cardiff & Vale College) reviews Nessa Carey's 'Hacking the Code of Life'

The scientific world is often met with the challenge of presenting novel technologies, that are responsible for creating a paradigm shift in our healthcare system, clearly amongst people like you and me and without bombarding the public with scary-looking scientific jargon!


Nessa Carey’s, Hacking the Code of Life: How Gene Editing Will Rewrite Our Futures, provides a concise overview into the world of gene editing, shedding light on the latest genetic modification tool referred to as CRISPR-Cas9. Carey’s brief, but well-informed, accounts enable the readership to explore the concept of CRISPR and its potential applications.

From editing mutations within certain congenital diseases, to introducing mutations with useful characteristics in livestock farming or even increasing crop yields to supply the needs of an ever-expanding global population, the use of this exciting piece of technology is endless!

Despite the promises of this new system, Carey makes no excuse for the many controversies and ethical dilemmas that surround the application of GM technology. While this may dissuade readers from supporting the use of CRISPR, it provides an honest account of the complex reality of novel therapeutics and how they are often met with a level of uncertainty when investigating their efficacy and overall safety. The line between right and wrong truly becomes a blur when considering Carey’s critical analysis of CRISPR.

I appreciate the conscious effort Carey has made to ensure that you read this, (relatively new era of gene modification), in a chronological fashion while providing useful analogies to allow the readership to grasp the fundamental concepts behind GM technology.

Whether you are a budding scientist or keen to broaden your horizons, this snapshot into gene editing is a fantastic place to gain insight into the principles of GM technology and how this novel entity has exceeded the expectations of scientists globally.


Something I agreed with in this book was…

Carey’s perspective on how European regulations contradict their own stance regarding the distribution and uses of GM technology, when compared to plant breeders who, through their methods and techniques, increase the risk of harmful and unwanted mutations to their crops, whereas the current system of GM technology provides greater precision when modifying plant species and avoid the introduction of any foreign mutations.

Something I disagreed with in this book was...

The distinctions made between the East and the West regarding their stances on Ethics. While I appreciate that regulations are not as rigorously monitored by establishments in the East, such as researchers in China (who are mentioned in this book), when compared to its Western counterparts and that results obtained from experiments are not published consistently, the statement Carey uses to critically analyse the approaches taken by these scientists undermines their efforts to explore this novel movement in GM technology. I firmly believe that these researchers should be under scrutiny, but solely for their work as we otherwise find ourselves critiquing the disparities in ethical stances. After all, scientists worldwide share common goals but not a common philosophy. The purpose to do good and prevent harm can be interpreted in various ways, so it is often challenging to determine whether the benefits of such actions outweigh any potential risks, especially when exploring novel therapeutics.

Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn't know about this subject before was...

The concept of intellectual property and the overall process in requesting a license or a patent for an invention.