Elizabeth Blackburn and the story of telomeres - deciphering the ends of DNA
by Brady, Catherine.
pub. by MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007     isbn - 978-0-262-02622-2 - - 392 p. - notes (extensive footnotes at end of book) - extensive bibliography - index - black and white photos, some chemical diagrams
Read this book if you have any interest in the real day-to-day workings of science. It is a WOW experience. It begins fairly straightfordly as a biography of a living eminent scientist - a biochemist. She was born in Hobart, Tasmania (Australia) in 1948. Her father was an MD. She went to school in Australia and did post-doctoral work in England at Cambridge. There she met her future husband John Sedat. She and her husband continued studies at Yale, in USA, and eventually moved to California, working first at Berkley and later at Univ. of California San Francisco (UCSF) where her lab is now. She serves and has served on many committees including those deciding who gets grants from the NIH (US Nat. Inst. Health). She was on the presidential committee Do note that Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel in Science, with 2 colleagues in 2009, shortly after this book was published. Some chapters are straight biographical, and some describe her scientific work in some detail. Many of those details went far beyond my understanding, but do illustrate the world in which biochemists who work with DNA, often at a molecular level, experience and study on a daily basis. Here also one is exposed to the ins and outs of lab work in a University setting. The internal politics of higher education and of the world of science where publishing and getting ones name on or mentioned in a major publication is essential for survival. Successful grant writing is discussed. The tensions of working in an academic lab and sharing with corporate for-profit labs is discussed at some length. Issues of ownership of information and ideas in the corporate world vs. more freely sharing among researchers in public institutions are explored. Then there is the gender issue. Serious science has been largely an -old boy- network. The place of women, especially married women with children is difficult, but as demonstrated by Blackburn, not impossible. I have heard several of her lectures which are available in Youtube. Blackburn is a charming person, and a good lecturer. When she was quite young she had elocution lessons, and no doubt they helped make her the powerful person she is.
She was appointed to President George W. Bushs Council on Bioethics and was basically let go from that appointment as her personal scientific ethics were ad odds with the posturing of the political leader of that body. She became a celebrated person in the scientific community for standing up to the pressure and not backing down on distortions to fact which were creeping into the final published report.
This book was a difficult read for me. It challenged the limits of my knowledge of chemistry... and stretched them. Nonetheless it was very worthwhile.

Some lectures online
Dr. Blackburn delivering more formal seminar lectures.


Elizabeth Blackburn talking about science and herself
~ 2010-01-18 ~

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