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Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology

Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology
Author: Paul Rabinow
ISBN 13: 9780226701479
ISBN 10: 226701476
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 1997-11-10
Format: Paperback
Pages: 198
List Price: $23.00

Making PCR is the fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of the invention of one of the most significant biotech discoveries in our time—the polymerase chain reaction. Transforming the practice and potential of molecular biology, PCR extends scientists' ability to identify and manipulate genetic materials and accurately reproduces millions of copies of a given segment in a short period of time. It makes abundant what was once scarce—the genetic material required for experimentation.

Making PCR explores the culture of biotechnology as it emerged at Certus Corporation during the 1980s and focuses on its distinctive configuration of scientific, technical, social, economic, political, and legal elements, each of which had its own separate trajectory over the preceding decade. The book contains interviews with the remarkable cast of characters who made PCR, including Kary Mullin, the maverick who received the Nobel prize for "discovering" it, as well as the team of young scientists and the company's business leaders.

This book shows how a contingently assembled practice emerged, composed of distinctive subjects, the site where they worked, and the object they invented.

"Paul Rabinow paints a . . . picture of the process of discovery in Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology [and] teases out every possible detail. . . . Makes for an intriguing read that raises many questions about our understanding of the twisting process of discovery itself."—David Bradley, New Scientist

"Rabinow's book belongs to a burgeoning genre: ethnographic studies of what scientists actually do in the lab. . . . A boldmove."—Daniel Zalewski, Lingua Franca

"[Making PCR is] exotic territory, biomedical research, explored. . . . Rabinow describes a dance: the immigration and repatriation of scientists to and from the academic and business worlds."—Nancy Maull, New York Times Book Review


Scientists laboring away in dank laboratories creating Frankenstein monsters may be the stereotype most non-geniuses hold closest to their heart, but the facts are nearer to a Vanity Fair expose than Mary Shelley's vision. Rabinow (anthropology, U. of California) digs around in the psyches of the key players who created polymerase chain reaction--the discovery which projected molecular biology into genetic hyperspace. He explores the emerging culture of Cetus Corporation in the 1980s and the politics and legal wrangling around molecular research; and he interviews the scientists and corporate executives who made PCR, including Kary Mullis who won a Nobel Prize for its discovery and then became a professional surfer. The volume provides interesting insights into a normally closed community. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)