The Code Breaker (Summary & Review of the Code Breaker Book)


The Code Breaker is a fascinating tribute to scientists who have made remarkable discoveries about our genome. The focus is on Jennifer Doudna, who, along with her microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020.

N/B: This article is about the Summary & Review of the Code Breaker. Get the Original Book on Amazon now!

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While the Nobel prize-winning gene-editing pioneer is the central figure of this revolutionary publication, Isaacson offers to examine closer to other researchers’ findings and how they are able to change our lives. According to Isaacson and the scientific community at large, Doudna’s results promise a cure for a wide variety of life-threatening illnesses.

About Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson is a journalist, historian, and notable biographer. He’s currently a Professor of History at Tulane and an advisory partner of the financial firm Perella Weinberg. His previous positions included that of Chief Executive Officer of the Aspen Institute. You may also have come across his work as chairman of CNN and editor of TIME magazine.

Isaacson is known in literary circles for his biographical efforts. He is the author of the best-selling biographies of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, DaVinci, and co-creator of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.

In The Code Breaker, Walter Isaacson follows the life story of Jennifer Doudna to describe the origins of the CRISPR-Cas9 work tool. Here, Isaacson examines this breakthrough in modern science and its usefulness in fighting and destroying deadly viruses and preventing inherited diseases.

The Double Helix

The first quarter of Code Breaker features a brief biography of Jennifer Doudna. As a child, she found her ambitions in learning and education. When she was in sixth grade, she realized that she wanted to combine her life with studying chemistry and genetics. One day, she came back from school and found a book left on her bed by her dad, called “The Double Helix” by James Watson. Doudna thought it was of those detective books on crime and put it away. After a few weeks, she decided to give it a try. While this wasn’t the book she was thinking of, it turned out to be a detective book in a way.

Double Helix was about people trying to unravel the ultimate mysteries of human life. The adventure of unleashing our DNA was full of fascinating characters, successful partnerships, and twists and turns. The book turned out to be an inspiration for little Jennifer to become a scientist. Growing up, she was told that “women don’t become researchers.” But, despite many challenges, Doudna managed to establish herself as a biochemist. Eventually, she reveals the mystery that was unsolved in The Double Helix.


CRISPR a practical abbreviation for [Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats], it’s the remarkable discovery of Doudna and his colleagues. It’s a system bacterium have used to fight viruses for millennia. When a virus attacks bacteria, they remember part of the code. When the virus later returns, the bacteria can use the knowledge of their code to handle the virus. This mechanism is essential for living organisms to develop immunity against viruses they have already encountered. This is exactly what we needed to beat COVID-19 and many future pandemics. However, instead of just making us immune, CRISPR can destroy the virus. With biotechnology, we can therefore fight not only new viruses but also their mutations. At the end of it all, it only takes a few days for scientists to re-encode CRISPR.

Doudna’s discovery is now translated into a vaccine against COVID-19. It has also been tested as a cure for cancer and several genetic diseases, including sickle cell anemia. In addition, CRISPR has the potential to select, enhance or suppress certain genetic traits in embryos. In 2018, technology helped create the first ”bespoke babies” with built-in immunity to HIV, although this sparked a massive backlash and resulted in the imprisonment of their creators.


The author’s emphasis on Doudna’s contribution to the discovery of CRISP gives the story a slight American slant. At the same time, the Nobel Laureate himself emphasizes the importance of teamwork. Their international team is made up of people from all over Europe, and the similarities (e.g., cultural) have helped increase the group’s synergy.

Although CRISPR’s breakthrough is closely linked to the work of American scientists, the author notes that convergence should not be ignored. He makes an analogy with the radar and the atomic bomb. These inventions are considered American, but the truth is that other countries did their research in the same field and around the same time. He even points out that the refugees from Europe and the knowledge they brought with them helped build an atomic bomb. The same goes for CRISPR and other discoveries in chemistry and biotechnology. In general, this is a collaborative product, and most of those who participated have, at least generally, remained in the shadows.

The Biotechnological Revolution

Walter Isaacson points out that he has written biographies of some of the most influential people in the tech world, including Steve Jobs. Computer technology has definitely been the most influential sector over the past three or four decades. However, the author believes that the future lies in biotechnology. Instead of just coding microchips, it’s possible to code our own DNA or code a vaccine to fight pandemics like the Coronavirus.

The technological revolution means big investments for laboratories and institutes. At the same time, many interested parties are working from their garage, much like what Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook. While the Internet age has produced cyber hackers, new advances in biotechnology can produce biohackers. The concern is that biohacking is much more dangerous than cyber hacking. For example, there are already people who change their muscle mass and develop DNA vaccines against the coronavirus from the couch. The most notable example is that of Josiah Zayner. Despite the risks, Isaacson believes it’s often the ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world. While scientists may hate political science, these amateur researchers can only give us the biotech version of Steve Jobs.

There is as well a huge opportunity for companies in this area. Boston, Massachusetts has the highest number of hospitals per capita in the world. It’s no wonder, then, that Kendall Square in Cambridge is the new Silicon Valley.

Patent Wars

Doudna and her team are not alone in their efforts to find end-to-end solutions. Competing labs also have a lot to offer. Although competition is the mother of progress, it has led to major patent litigation. Jennifer Doudna and her University of California teammates stand tall in the red corner of the patented boxing match. In the blue corner, Feng Zhang & Co. of the Broad Institute, Boston.

It’s not hard to see that this is about owning one of the most promising technologies of the future. The market for medical solutions to cure diseases and genetic improvements in humans is valued at billions of dollars, and everyone wants a bigger slice of the pie. The battle with brilliant minds and powerful corporations behind them is fraught with accusations of fraud, treason, and moral violation. It is an ethical, legal, and economic drama. Interviews with leading biotechnology experts will give you a glimpse of where we are heading.

Ethical Dilemmas

The adaptation of our genome opens up endless possibilities for improving human health and well-being. If we could cure schizophrenia or AIDS just by changing a few things in our code, wouldn’t we take the opportunity?

The technology based on the specificity of bacteria has prospects for medical applications in more than 20 fields. It has the potential to cure cancer, blindness, atherosclerosis, and many other diseases that we would never wish to encounter. CRISPR seems like a godsend to iron out our shortcomings, but the devil is always in the details. What if our flaws disappear with something important to our humanity? What if we lose our compassion, sympathy, and wisdom with the pieces of code we want to remove?

Even though we aspire to a noble goal of interfering with the structure of human DNA, ethical issues remain a hot topic. Isaacson goes on to talk about He Jiankui, the Chinese pioneer in child making. When responding to Doudna’s criticism of his manipulation of the genomic code of the twins’ Lulu and Nana, he said his goal was to protect them from possible HIV infection. People with HIV are stigmatized in China, and he just wanted to give the twins a chance to have a better life.

When we solve the problem of disease and life-threatening conditions, we are dealing with another – is it okay to “craft” designer babies? The information our genes carry is likely to give us the diversity we need. If you remove or change something in our code, we can lose that diversity. In addition, the functions of our code can be both villains and heroes. For example, scientists have found that the code that causes sickle cell anemia actually helps fight malaria. Could it be that removing something terrible would lead to even more significant problems? Where are the lines between basic need and abuse, and how not to cross them? If not to answer these questions, the book tries at least to give food for thought.

The Problems Of Selectivity

The book deals with many other ethical and moral questions. If we can be able to heal humanity, where do we start? In practice, CRISPR technology costs a million dollars and more. Does this show that only the rich can benefit? How do you decide who will receive treatment and who will have to live with their disease?

Because if we can find a solution to the most severe diseases, that does not mean that the carriers themselves want to change their lives. The Code Breaker references a man with sickle cell anemia. Although the disease affected his life, the effects were not entirely adverse. He learned patience and a positive attitude towards life that he didn’t want to lose it. Therefore, he would decline if offered treatment for his illness.

It is so clear to see why so many people accept their shortcomings. But, ultimately, challenges shape character. Would Roosevelt be the Roosevelt we know if he had never contracted polio? What about Miles Davis? 

CRISPR To Tackle Corona Virus Disease

CRISPR could become our major weapon in the fight against the most pressing problem: the coronavirus pandemic. Walter Isaacson took the time to explain how the virus worked and how it had spread to pandemic proportions. Laboratories are already working on the advanced mRNA vaccine based on the alignment of coronavirus genes. However, many people worry that the vaccine will also change their genes. The Codebreaker tries to answer your burning questions about the virus and how to beat it, hands down.


Scientists like Doudna are developing ways to manage CRISPR when something goes wrong. While this technology has enormous potential, we don’t yet know how changing the genetic code will affect other genetic variables in any way. We cannot condone the fact that some people are using CRISPR technology for evil. Understanding how to implement CRISPR is, therefore, just as crucial as developing this technology further.

What is the book The Code Breaker About?

Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker examines the work of Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jennifer Doudna in developing one of the world’s most advanced gene-editing techniques used to fight deadly viruses and treat inherited diseases.

Is The Code Breaker worth reading?

Yes, Walter Isaacson recommends that EVERYONE should study gene editing and educate themselves about the genetic code, just as the children are learning digital coding today. Biotechnology is fast becoming the next great scientific revolution of the 21st century, and understanding the language enables people to put technology to good use.

How many pages is The Code Breaker?

‎560 pages of Paperback/Hardcover and 552 pages of Kindle version.

Three Revealing Lessons From The Code Breaker

  1. CRISPR is the bacteria’s defense system against viruses
  2. The CRISPR-Cas9 complex is the most precise tool for genome editing
  3. CRISPR-based systems can fight off many harmful viruses, including our immune system.

CRISPR is the bacteria’s defense system against viruses

When molecular biologist Yoshizumi Ishino sequenced a gene in the E. coli bacteria in 1986, he noticed something interesting.

Ishino had seen five identical segments of DNA scattered between normal DNA sequences called “spaces.” Then, in 1990, another molecular biologist, Francisco Mojica, discovered the role of these repeats and clustered spaces while working on archaea found in salt lakes. Mojica called these CRISPR sequences: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

The spacer segments that Mojica found correspond to the sequences found in viruses that attacked most bacteria. Interestingly, bacteria with CRISPR spacer sequences have been shown to be immune to infection by a virus with the same sequence. On the other hand, bacteria couldn’t prevent disease without distance. When exposed to new viruses, the surviving bacteria have absorbed some of the virus’s DNA to become immune to a new attack. CRISPR has been shown to be the modified immune system of bacteria.

The repeated sequences contain the design of enzymes called “CRISPR-associated” or Cas enzymes. In one year, biologist Eugene Koonin has proven that these repeated sequences capture part of the DNA of the offending virus. Koonin speculated that the CRISPR defense works by disrupting messenger RNAs that carry out the instructions encoded by DNA. But Jennifer Doudna, Berkeley’s leading RNA interference expert, has proven that the CRISPR defense system is more than just RNA interference.

The CRISPR-Cas9 complex is the most precise genome editing tool

American biochemist Jennifer Doudna knew that CRISPR would revolutionize the way we treat genetic and viral diseases. Doudna’s strategy for deciphering CRISPR was to understand its function and structure. During the research, the Doudna team got together around Cas9 enzymes. When Cas9 was inactivated in bacteria, Doudna’s team discovered that the CRISPR system no longer crushed invading viruses.

The second discovery of Doudna’s team was “CRISPR-RNA,” known as “crRNA” – another important component of the CRISPR-Cas9 complex. crNA are small pieces of RNA that store the code for an invading virus and allow Cas enzymes to defend themselves against further invasion.

In 2009, a French microbiologist Emmanuell Charpentier discovered another essential component of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, the “CRISPR-RNA transactivator” or “tracrRNA”. tracrRNA plays two important roles: it helps in the formation of crRNA, and it acts as a handle for the invading virus by turning RNA into small crRNAs that precisely target sequences of an attacking virus. When Doudna and Charpentier learned how the CRISPR-Cas9 complex works as a defense system, Doudna was able to use it to refine the code of life. As a result, Doudna and Charpentier received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of CRISPR technology for genome editing.

CRISPR-based systems can fight off many harmful viruses, including our immune system.

By turning CRISPR into a tool for genetic manipulation, bioengineers can now detect and destroy viruses that attack human cells, including SARS-CoV-2, also known as coronavirus. A virus is DNA or RNA that grows in a protein envelope. When a virus attacks a cell of an organism, it breaks its machinery to replicate. In the case of the coronavirus, the genetic material is RNA, and the human receptor is a protein called ACE2. This has other useful functions, so editing it is not a good idea.

Vaccines are our urgent need, but they are not a perfect solution as they depend on strengthening a person’s immune system, which in turn can have unwanted side effects. The best solution available is to use CRISPR to cut genetic material into a virus without affecting the immune system. At the end of 2019, bioengineer Cameron Myhrvold showed that Cas13 with CRISPR technology can be used against a large number of single-stranded RNA viruses.

Biochemist Stanley Qi built on

Myhrvold’s approach to targeting and cutting off invading virus RNA. Qi used a new version of Cas13 known as Cas13d, which was discovered by one of Doudna’s colleagues. Cas13d was the better choice due to its small size and very specific targeting options. In February 2020, experiments showed that Qi technology, called PAC-MAN, can reduce coronavirus’s amount by 90%. With delivery mechanisms in place, CRISPR-based systems can revolutionize the treatment world without compromising the body’s immune system.


Ethical questions remain around the invention of CRISPR and the long-term consequences of genetic engineering. But Doudna’s work – which focuses on how we can use genetic modification to fight inherited diseases – is a remarkable achievement in modern science.

Final Analysis

This conclusion is all about the final evaluation, analysis, and criticism of The Code Breaker.

Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker is a fascinating read about breakthroughs in gene-editing and the people who made them possible. Although it tackles a complex subject, Isaacson’s engaging narrative style and use of layman language make the book easy to understand. For example, suppose you want to learn more about female characters in historically male-dominated fields or learn more about how remarkable scientific discoveries are made. In that case, The Code Breaker deserves mention.

The book is a bit large in scope and has a particular bias in favor of American scientists. Although book covers are increasing rapidly due to the field of study, the book is already out of date in some areas.

Overall, this is an excellent combination of biography, current events, and science writing in one volume. Since this is Isaacson’s work, there is a lot of material to work with, but it’s incredibly readable and compelling. The visual aids (including an image that exactly describes how CRISPR works) are particularly illuminating. Although this is a comprehensive book, The Code Breaker is well worth the time investment.

Thumbs up, Walter Isaacson 

We’re just scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the original book, “THE CODE BREAKER” by Walter Isaacson, order it here on Amazon to learn the juicy details.

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