Had a request for a teaser of my recent review of Nic Rasmussen’s Gene Jockeys from Nature (April 10). If you want the whole thing, log in to Nature or shoot me an email.
In 1969, the molecular biologist Gunther Stent published one of the most spectacularly inaccurate predictions in the history of modern science. In The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress (Natural History Press), he stated his belief that molecular genetics — which had only really been a science for 15 years — had peaked. The “golden age,” he wrote, would be one of modest discovery and waning public interest in science. That year, Jonathan Beckwith isolated the first gene. In 1970, Hamilton Smith found the first site-specific restriction enzyme, which his colleague Daniel Nathans developed into a tool for cutting and pasting DNA. Then, in 1972, Paul Berg spliced a bacterial gene into a virus. With the ability to engineer genes, molecular genetics began in earnest. Never mind the Age of Aquarius; this was the age of recombinant DNA.
In Gene Jockeys, the biologist and science historian Nicolas Rasmussen delicately unravels the tangled fibres of discovery, entrepreneurship and lab life in the first decades of genetic engineering.