Reading progress update: I've read 237 out of 593 pages.

The Gene: An Intimate History - Siddhartha Mukherjee

The book is taking a break from the full-on hard science, and has moved into another double-edged aspect of science - commercial use, starting with a tale kicked off by what I can only describe as the IP Law equivalent of an ambulance chaser:

"STAN COHEN AND Herb Boyer had also gone to Asilomar to debate the future of recombinant DNA. They found the conference irritating—even deflating. Boyer could not bear the infighting and the name-calling; he called the scientists “self-serving” and the meeting a “nightmare.” Cohen refused to sign the Asilomar agreement (although as a grantee of the NIH, he would eventually have to comply with it).

 

Back in their own laboratories, they returned to an issue that they had neglected amid the commotion. In May 1974, Cohen’s lab had published the “frog prince” experiment—the transfer of a frog gene into a bacterial cell. When asked by a colleague how he had identified the bacteria expressing the frog genes, Cohen had jokingly said that he had kissed the bacteria to check which ones would transform into a prince.

   At first, the experiment had been an academic exercise; it had only turned biochemists’ heads. (Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel Prize–winning biologist and Cohen’s colleague at Stanford, was among the few who wrote, presciently, that the experiment “may completely change the pharmaceutical industry’s approach to making biological elements, such as insulin and antibiotics.”) But slowly, the media awoke to the potential impact of the study.

   In May, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story on Cohen, focusing on the possibility that gene-modified bacteria might someday be used as biological “factories” for drugs or chemicals. Soon, articles on gene-cloning technologies had appeared in Newsweek and the New York Times. Cohen also received a quick baptism on the seamy side of scientific journalism. Having spent an afternoon talking patiently to a newspaper reporter about recombinant DNA and bacterial gene transfer, he awoke the next morning to the hysterical headline: “Man-made Bugs Ravage the Earth.”

   At Stanford University’s patent office, Niels Reimers, a savvy former engineer, read about Cohen and Boyer’s work through these news outlets and was intrigued by its potential. Reimers—less patent officer and more talent scout—was active and aggressive: rather than waiting for inventors to bring him inventions, he scoured the scientific literature on his own for possible leads. Reimers approached Boyer and Cohen, urging them to file a joint patent on their work on gene cloning (Stanford and UCSF, their respective institutions, would also be part of that patent). Both Cohen and Boyer were surprised. During their experiments, they had not even broached the idea that recombinant DNA techniques could be “patentable,” or that the technique could carry future commercial value. In the winter of 1974, still skeptical, but willing to humor Reimers, Cohen and Boyer filed a patent for recombinant DNA technology."

 

 *rolls eyes*