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by Frank Ryan
After a passing glance at Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin, Ryan explores the work of one of the greatest scientists to never have won a Nobel Prize: Oswald Avery, who led the team that discovered, in the 1940s, that DNA carries genetic information. Until that point, everyone assumed that genes were proteins — extremely complex molecules. However, despite an impressive size, DNA has a simple, repetitious structure. In an act of dazzling creativity (others did the actual research), James Watson and Francis Crick determined the makeup of DNA in 1952... Ryan quotes liberally from The Eighth Day of Creation (1979), Horace Freeland Judson’s masterpiece on the early decades of DNA research. Like Judson, Ryan conducts thoughtful interviews, describes experiments in precise detail, and takes care to include the inevitable politics, personalities, frustrations, and controversies. He manages to make sense of a relentless stream of discoveries that have already revolutionized our picture of human evolution and which will allow us — not quite yet but any year now — to create life in the lab and cure disease.