cover image Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesize a Human Gene

Invisible Frontiers: The Race to Synthesize a Human Gene

Stephen S. Hall. Atlantic Monthly Press, $19.95 (334pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-147-8

Drawing on scores of interviews with participants, science writer Hall describes the 19761978 ""race''begun when the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly organized a recombinant DNA symposium of scientists in Indianapolisbetween a Harvard biogenetics lab, headed by scientist Walter Gilbert, and two San Franciscoarea labs, one calling itself City of Hope (eventually funded by a tiny company called Genentech) and the other a William Rutter-Howard Goodman team ultimately backed by Eli Lilly. The goal: to make insulin in mass-market quantities by using recombinant DNA techniquessplicing a human gene with bacteria. This is demanding reading for biochemistry novices, but the drama is double-track: scientists plus entrepreneurs. In late 1978, the City of Hope team won out (``the bacteria went bonkers''), while the unlucky Harvard/Biogen lab found gremlins in its ``soup.'' A new era of Big Buck science? The jury is still out. First serial to California magazine. (August 26)