National Book Festival Presents “Walter Isaacson on the Biomedical Future” on May 20

The following post was written by Anya Creightney, a program specialist in Literary Initiatives.

Image of Walter Isaacson and Katherine Eban. Text reads: Library of Congress National Book Festival Presents

On Thursday, May 20, at 7 p.m. ET, author Walter Isaacson discusses his new book (“The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race”) with journalist Katherine Eban.

Now that the country is coming back online, you may find yourself thinking about our main weapon against COVID-19: vaccines. But how do COVID-19 vaccines work? What scientific discoveries are required for these lifesaving tools? And how were scientists able to develop these vaccines so quickly?

To answer these questions, join us on Thursday, May 20, at 7:00 PM ET, for an intriguing virtual conversation with renowned biographer Walter Isaacson, author of the newly published book “The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race,” and award-winning investigative journalist Katherine Eban. The event, part of our National Book Festival Presents series, will premiere on the Library’s Facebook page and its YouTube site, and will be available for viewing afterward on the Library’s website.

Isaacson’s newest book figures around Jennifer Doudna, the American biochemist known for her pioneering work on the gene editing technology CRISPR, for which she and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is shorthand for regularly repeating specialized segments of DNA. Doudna is responsible for creating a technology that attaches a specific protein—CRISPR Cas9—to a segment of RNA to literally cut out unwanted segments of DNA. The technology has a host of applications, be it in medical treatments for cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease, or in agricultural industries to engineer virus resistant probiotic cultures. More recently, CRISPR technology is what propelled the development and advancement of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Isaacson, a great admirer of creative innovators mostly in the science and technology fields, goes to great lengths to simplify Doudna’s science, even drawing out fascinating connections to nature and its elegant, or, at times, inelegant intrusions into our everyday lives. Eban is just as instructive as she does a masterful job of eliciting the history of gene editing, Doudna’s background, and the real and very competitive field of chemistry and gene editing.

So, make sure to tune in on Thursday, May 20. We promise you’ll be both fascinated and moved by the new and collaborative efforts required to help and protect our ever-changing world.

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