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Biology Is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life Paperback – May 15 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 15 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674060156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674060159
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 1.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #573,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Biology is Technology makes a tremendous contribution to public analysis of a very important emerging field. Although various commentators have discussed particular aspects of synthetic biology (e.g. risk regulation, intellectual property considerations), I am not aware of a book that encapsulates all of the varying strands of the debate. In addition, the book takes a set of provocative and interesting stances on the subjects that it addresses. It is obviously written by someone who has been a longstanding participant in, and commentator on, the field. Although I do not necessarily agree with all of the positions taken by the book, they are well-defended and thought through. (Arti K. Rai, Elvin R. Latty Professor of Law, Duke Law School)

Carlson clearly frames a fresh future for biotechnology. Each chapter, from technology trends to property rights and biosecurity conundrums, invites close reading and vibrant discussion. (Drew Endy, Stanford Bioengineering & The BioBricks Foundation)

Since Rob Carlson is THE authoritative tracker of progress in biotech, this book is the most complete---and exciting&mdashchronicle&mdash of the technological revolution that promises to dominate this century. (Stewart Brand, Author of Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto)

In this new book, bioengineer Robert H. Carlson forecasts the rise of the cell and the subsequent emergence of biological techniques for making fuels, synthetic DNA that builds new organisms, and reverse-engineered viruses for making vaccines. Biologists, Carlson says, are the new engineers, and the future is in remodeling life as we know it. (Wired 2010-03-01)

[Carlson] presents an informative view of the future prospects for biotechnology and its regulation. (Michael A. Goldman Nature 2010-04-22)

Biology Is Technology is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the current state of biotechnology and the opportunities and dangers it may create. (Alex Soojung-Kim Pang American Scientist 2010-11-01)

A thoughtful attempt to put what we think we know about biotechnology into a larger context, by a physicist-turned-bioentrepreneur. (The Economist 2010-12-04)

About the Author

Robert H. Carlson is a Principal at Biodesic LLC.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa3016af8) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa31676fc) out of 5 stars The first of the small-scale biotech company books. March 23 2010
By Benjamin J. Hunt - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Book was review of recent adventures in open-source and small scale biotechnology. If you haven't been reading the scholarly literature on devices and breakthroughs, I can think of no better crash course.

From Keasling's entire engineered metabolic pathways to iGEM to Amyris's new fuel producing bacteria, the author has an excellent and informed perspective on the breakthroughs that are worth thinking about.

The author also describes in detail the difficult morass of patent and copyright law concerning biotechnology. His description of CAMBIA's "walled garden" is better than any I have read, even in books exclusively about open-source biotechnology. (Although there is currently only one, Biobazaar).

His description of garage biotechnology is sparse, mainly due to the above morass, and it would have been nice to have more details on the LavaAmp, this author's most recent work, which is a very cheap, reusable PCR device.

This book goes by fast, and is a must read for anyone looking to start or invest in a small biotechnology company, or anyone who wants to do it themselves.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3167948) out of 5 stars Excellent March 15 2010
By William B. Swift - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent survey of recent developments AND a thorough argument that openness contributes more to our safety from future attacks and accidents than trying to restrict knowledge and materials could. Not quite up to date, as he wrote in the Afterword, "everyone in the field is running so fast that it is impossible to keep up", but more so than any other book I have found. Most of the detailed discussion of the actual technology is up to about 2 years ago. A good discussion of the benefits and problems of patents as they apply to biotechnology (and to any field where many patents may apply to a single product (patent thickets)). Surprisingly readable for the amount of information included.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa316790c) out of 5 stars If you are a biotech entrepreneur, this is required reading Jan. 28 2012
By R. Qualls - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Biology Is Technology is written like a quality research paper. It covers the current challenges with delivering bioengineering/biotechnology solutions and what is being done to meet those challenges. This is a no BS book. Carlson goes into the meat right off the bat, and you are not likely to be disappointed with any of the chapters by the time you finish. If you are an investor, entrepreneur, executive, or are just curious, this book needs to be on your bookshelf.

Table of Contents:

1. What Is Biology?
2. Building with Biological Parts
3. Learning to Fly (or Yeast, Geese, and 747s)
4. The Second Coming of Synthetic Biology
5. A Future History of Biological Engineering
6. A Pace of Change in Biological Technologies
7. The International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition
8. Reprogramming Cells and Building Genomes
9. The Promise and Peril of Biological Technologies
10. The Sources of Inspiration and the Effects of Existing and Proposed Regulations
11. Laying the Foundations for a Bioeconomy
12. Of Straitjackets and Springboards for Innovation
13. Open-Source Biology, or Open Biology?
14. What Makes a Revolution?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa3167c00) out of 5 stars Some of what you want to know about synthetic biology, but not enough July 19 2014
By Lee by the Sea - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I selected this book for a small group that is dipping its toes into synthetic biology--or at least trying to get its mind around it. It looked good enough, but as we have used it, its defects have become increasingly obvious: It is out of date (lots of economic data from 2006-2008), idiosyncratically written, and badly organized. We had to go to another couple of books and the Internet to get everyone up to speed on the fundamentals of DNA. Although Carlson does give an example of direct modification of DNA and covers the early days of iGEM, there is too much missing and too much soapbox talk. Unfortunately, he is not a lucid writer. With all of that said, the book does cover many relevant topics, such as the biosafety and patent issues that accompany this fascinating field. Carlson attempts to cover the economic aspects but his coverage is sorely dated. I hope that someone else will put it all together for general readers in the near future--hello, iGem graduates with a flair for writing! And when he or she creates the Kindle version, real page numbers and a live index would be very appreciated.
HASH(0xa3167c60) out of 5 stars Biotech will change our lives more than computers did - This is a first book to help understand how/why April 5 2014
By F. Schulz - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unusually well written, in that it clearly summarizes just-enough but all-you-need of the scientific basis to support the larger discussion. The larger discussion covers a wide range of business, economic and societal impacts as well. The author understands the organizational and group dynamics of very different communities, ranging from government regulators, academics, medical, pharma, and agricultural businesses as well as the rising bio-hacking community. It's very difficult to gist a complex topic like this down to the essentials. Carlson successfully does so over an immense conceptual range ... an impressive feat of communication.

At the end of each chapter I thought that the rest couldn't be as good, and was wrong each time. The logical progression was great, leading to clear questions, recommendations and suggestions for the way forward for various stakeholders. My copy is a mass of yellow highlighting and marginal notes. Very well done.

Recommended for anyone who was comfortable with any basic science course, especially organizational decision-makers. The text is very accessible and self contained.