The Catalyst: RNA and the Quest to Unlock Life's Deepest Secrets (Hardcover)

The Catalyst: RNA and the Quest to Unlock Life's Deepest Secrets By Thomas R. Cech Cover Image

The Catalyst: RNA and the Quest to Unlock Life's Deepest Secrets (Hardcover)


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One of Literary Hub's Most Anticipated Books of 2024

Exploring the most transformative breakthroughs in biology since the discovery of the double helix, a Nobel Prize–winning scientist unveils the RNA age.

For over half a century, DNA has dominated science and the popular imagination as the “secret of life.” But over the last several decades, a quiet revolution has taken place. In a series of breathtaking discoveries, the biochemist Thomas R. Cech and a diverse cast of brilliant scientists have revealed that RNA—long overlooked as the passive servant of DNA—sits at the center of biology’s greatest mysteries: How did life begin? What makes us human? Why do we get sick and grow old? In The Catalyst, Cech finally brings together years of research to demonstrate that RNA is the true key to understanding life on Earth, from its very origins to our future in the twenty-first century.

A gripping journey of discovery, The Catalyst moves from the early experiments that first hinted at RNA’s spectacular powers, to Cech’s own paradigm-shifting finding that it can catalyze cellular reactions, to the cutting-edge biotechnologies poised to reshape our health. We learn how RNA—once thought merely to transmit DNA’s genetic instructions to the cell’s protein-making machinery—may have jump-started life itself, and how, at the same time, it can cut our individual lives short through viral diseases and cancer. We see how RNA is implicated in the aging process and explore the darker depths of the supposed fountain of youth, telomerase. And we catch a thrilling glimpse into how RNA-powered therapies—from CRISPR, the revolutionary tool that uses RNA to rewrite the code of life, to the groundbreaking mRNA vaccines that have saved millions during the pandemic, and more—may enable us to improve and even extend life beyond nature’s current limits.

Written by one of our foremost scientists, The Catalyst is a must-read guide to the present and future of biology and medicine.

Thomas R. Cech is distinguished professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His many honors include the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Product Details ISBN: 9781324050681
ISBN-10: 1324050683
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: June 4th, 2024
Pages: 304
Language: English
Thomas Cech led the way into what will be known as the age of RNA. When others were focused on DNA, Cech probed the mysteries of the then lesser-known, but wondrous molecule that creates the stuff of life and is a key to life’s origins. The Catalyst vividly describes the marvels of RNA and the discoveries—from vaccines to gene-editing tools—that will shape our future. I am so glad Cech wrote this book.

— Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Elon Musk and The Code Breaker

Nobel laureate Thomas Cech takes us into the world of RNA with a story that’s as enlightening as it is fascinating. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the molecule that has shaped life itself and is driving the future of science and medicine.
— Jennifer Doudna, Nobel laureate, co-inventor of CRISPR gene editing, and founder of the Innovative Genomics Institute

A series of dogma-smashing and Nobel-winning discoveries about RNA has transformed our understanding of how life works and given birth to exquisite, life-saving technologies. Thomas Cech’s The Catalyst is a masterful account of the RNA revolution in biology and medicine by one of its brilliant pioneers.

— Sean B. Carroll, author of The Serengeti Rules and A Series of Fortunate Events

An absorbing account of the scientific journey that led to the development of crucial RNA-based vaccine technologies and other important medical breakthroughs. Readers will come away from this fascinating book feeling more knowledgeable and empowered to make decisions about their own health.
— Kenneth Frazier, retired CEO of Merck & Co.

For brains of a mortal frequency, RNA may have only popped into consciousness with the groundbreaking introduction of COVID-targeting mRNA vaccines and CRISPR therapies. In the telling of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Tom Cech, RNA was long the sidelined brother of DNA, with its showy double helix. Thanks to work by Cech and others, the power of RNA to impact aging and catalyze biochemical reactions is made apparent.
— Literary Hub

Cech is a lucid prose stylist, vividly communicating his and his colleagues’ excitement as they have unraveled RNA’s secrets.. . . . [The Catalyst is] an expert update on the hottest topics in biology.

— Kirkus