James Watson

DNA The Secret of Life Translated from the English (United States) by Barbara Hofschted. Publication date : November 1, 2003

Fifty years ago, when he was only 24, James Watson contributed to cracking the genetic code and thus helped resolve one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our age. In DNA: The Secret of Life, he goes back in time and offers an overall view of the genetic revolution — from Mendel’s early experiments in the nineteenth century, to the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, and to such recent developments as the sequencing of the human genome and biotechnolgy. The study of genetics began around 1866 when the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel explained the laws governing heredity. Today, knowledge of genetics has given scientists the ability of manipulating the very nature of living beings — something that would not have been possible without Watson and Crick’s discovery. In this book, James Watson gives us the keys to understanding the molecular foundations of life. He shows to what extent our knowledge of genetics affects how we regard our origins and our own identity. Drawing on his long experience at the forefront of genetic research, he examines the brave new world that lies before us all and the consequences of the genetic revolution (GM foods, the treatment and prevention of genetic disorders, cloning, DNA fingerprinting, etc.). Having acquired the ability to modify as well as to understand life, we must now face a myriad of scientific, moral and social choices. In this task, we could hope for no better guide than James Watson, who offers us here an in-depth introduction to the major genetic issues facing the human species: understanding and modelling itself.

James D. Watson is best known as the co-discoverer, with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, of the molecular structure of DNA. For this accomplishment, the three men shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Watson is the author of the international bestseller The Double Helix, a personal account of the steps involved in this groundbreaking discovery. In 1968, Watson was appointed director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, on Long Island, New York, and became its president in 1994. From 1989 to 1992, he served as the first director of the American National Center for Human Genome Research. He is a member of the American National Academy of Sciences and of the British Royal Society.

Andrew Berry is a junior fellow at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and the editor of Infinite Tropics, an anthology of the works of scientist Alfred Russel Wallace.