A new gene editing technology, invented just seven years ago, has turned humanity into gods. Enabling us to manipulate the genes in virtually any organism with exquisite precision, CRISPR has given scientists a degree of control that was undreamt of even in science fiction.
But CRISPR is just the latest, giant leap in a long journey to master genetics. The Genetic Age shows the astonishing, world-changing potential of the new genetics and the possible threats it poses, sifting between fantasy and the reality when it comes to both benefits and dangers.
By placing each phase of discovery, anticipation and fear in the context of over fifty years of attempts to master the natural world, Matthew Cobb, the Baillie-Gifford-shortlisted author of The Idea of the Brain, weaves the stories of science, history and culture to shed new light on our future. With the powers now at our disposal, it is a future that is almost impossible to imagine – but it is one we will create ourselves.
Matthew Cobb is a Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester. The presenter of the BBC radio series Genetic Dreams, Genetic Nightmares, his previous books include The Idea of the Brain: A History, which was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford, and Life's Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code, which was shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Book Prize.
"Powerful gene technologies, long foreseen, are finally with us. Taking the measure of this daunting prospect calls for historical acumen, technical appreciation, and a clear-eyed view of human foibles. As this book attests, Matthew Cobb has all three"
– Jon Turney
"A superb account of genetic engineering in life and culture, in all its myriad anxieties and exhilarations. Should we be scared? Read this book and you'll have a sense of the answer"
– Adam Roberts, author It's the End of the World
"Matthew Cobb is a great storyteller of science, a tapestry of intriguing and enlightening ideas thoughtfully and entertainingly told"
– Robin Ince
"Profound and important [...] Written with astute, calm and clear-sighted judgement, The Genetic Age is likely to be the definitive account of the rise of gene biotechnologies. Neither a credulous booster nor a doom-mongering catastrophist, Matthew Cobb steers a prudent path through the promise and perils of genetic engineering"
– Philip Ball, author Critical Mass
"Faced with a new round of genetic dreams and nightmares, Matthew Cobb skilfully sifts the truth from the hype in this thrilling and alarming account of our most dangerous and exciting technology"
– Paul Mason, author How to Stop Fascism
"A riveting guide to the new age of genome engineering, revealing how ideas and technology that until recently existed only in science fiction are now a stunning clinical reality [...] Required reading for anyone who cares about the future of humanity and our planet"
– Kevin Davies, author Editing Humanity
"The promise of genetic engineering is limitless, the stuff of dreams and nightmares, and that is also the problem, as Matthew Cobb shows us in this elegant and meticulously researched history. Packed with human stories and fascinating detail, this is the journey of discovery that changed how we view life itself."
– Gaia Vince, author Transcendence, Adventures in the Anthropocene
"A lucid and vigorously insightful account of the pitfalls and triumphs of the twenty-first century's most ethically challenging and potentially world-changing technology"
– Paul McAuley, author of Fairyland
"A superb guide to the global history of the dreams, fears and science of genetic engineering, and why it matters for tomorrow"
– Jon Agar, author Turing and the Universal Machine
"A gripping, bawdy tale of science fiction morphing into business history [...] Exhaustively researched and beautifully written [...] the histories of recombinant DNA, biotech, GMOs, gene therapy, and cloning in a single lively, accessible account"
– Nathaniel Comfort, Professor of the History of Medicine, John Hopkins University, and author The Tangled Field: How Genetics Became the Heart of American Medicine
"The genetic advances of the past half-century have raised the possibility that we can not only read the instructions that make living things, including ourselves, but also edit them at will. As a geneticist, Matthew Cobb celebrates the potential of these advances for medicine, agriculture and biodiversity. As a historian, however, he sets them against a complex social, political and cultural backdrop, arguing that everyone should have a voice in deciding what is necessary and right, not just what is possible. His riveting analysis warns that in a world beset by poverty, inequality and climate catastrophe, chasing apparently dazzling technofixes is rarely cost effective or morally justified."
– Georgina Ferry, scientist and broadcaster