Inside the CRISPR saga

What’s unique about this book are the insights into the relationships between the main characters of the CRISPR saga. The loyal friendship linking Jennifer Doudna and George Church. The growing distrust between Doudna and Zhang. Doudna’s sorrow that she and Charpentier have drifted apart, personally as well as scientifically. The last point is indeed a melancholic note in the Nobel-ending tale. Why did their friendship fall apart?


Isaacson considers a bunch of factors, i.e. the fact that Charpentier felt a little proprietary about the CRISPR system and had a bit of disdain for Doudna’s drive for credit; Doudna’s decision to go with a competing company; their different scientific interests, with Emmanuelle focusing on bacteria and basic research rather than joining Dounda in the quest to find ways to use CRISPR; the different levels of comfort each had with publicity, with the French being more recalcitrant than the American; Charpentier feeling too busy to enjoy time together. The chronicles of the day of the Nobel announcement are frustrating:

Doudna badly wanted to actually talk to her. She texted Charpentier repeatedly throughout the day and left messages on her cell three times. “Please, please call me,” Doudna texted at one point. “I won’t take much of your time, I just want to say congratulations on the phone to you.” Charpentier finally responded, “I’m really, really exhausted, but I promise I’ll call you tomorrow.”

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