Helga Nowotny, Giuseppe Testa

Naked Genes - Reinventing the Human in the Molecular Age

(German title: Die gläsernen Gene)
ca. 159 pages
Helga Nowotny
Foto: Helga Nowotny
© Helga Nowotn­y

Helga Nowotny is Vice President of the European Research Council and since 2002 professor emeritus for Science Research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich.

Giuseppe Testa

Giuseppe Testa

Giuseppe Testa is Director of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Epigenetics at the European Institute of Oncology and the European School of Molecular Medicine in Milan.

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English world rights (MIT Press), Italy (Codice)


The molecular life sciences are making visible what was once invisible. Yet the more we learn about our own biology, the less we are able to fit this knowledge into an integrated whole. Life is divided into new sub-units and reassembled into new forms: from genes to clones, from embryonic stages to the building-blocks of synthetic biology.

Extracted from their scientific and social contexts, these new entities become not only visible but indeed »naked«: ready to assume an essential status of their own and take on multiple values and meanings as they pass from labs to courts, from patent offices to parliaments and back.
In Naked Genes, leading science scholar Helga Nowotny and molecular biologist Giuseppe Testa examine the interaction between these dramatic advances in the life sciences and equally dramatic political reconfigurations of our societies. They bring wit and freshness of perspective to ongoing debates over topics ranging from assisted reproduction and personalized medicine to genetic sports doping, revealing both surprising continuities and radical discontinuities between the latest advances in the life sciences and long-standing human traditions. The task of institutions in the molecular age, they argue, is to make a pluralistic society possible by carving a legitimate free space that allows experimentation with new forms of biological life as well as with new forms of social life. (book description from the English edition published by MIT Press)


»Today, people are living in an age in which they can be technically reproduced. It is an age in which the rapid developments in gene technology are awakening deep-seated fears. Are we losing our individuality? Is all of this even natural? And ultimately, who should be the one to decide what should be done and what is permissible to do, and by which criteria? To explore these questions, the book's authors assume a refreshingly innovative and provocative approach that uses present-day examples from research, society and politics to call timehonored principles into question and take them off the shelf. Many of the insights they have arrived at will contribute significantly to getting many a discussion moving again.« Christoph Zollikofer, Universitity of Zurich

»Contemporary life sciences hold the promise of technologies that will control the biological foundations of human life. Whether life should be controlled by technological means and how is a question that every society must answer for itself. This clever book provides for clarity about the choices that are currently available, while also offering further proof as to how invaluable interdisciplinary collaboration is.« Paul Rabinow, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley

»I have never before encountered such clarity at the meeting point between scientific accuracy and an examination of society.« Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society, Munich

»This book is the ideal starting point for anyone who has not yet been able to systematically follow the ongoing debate at the intersection between life sciences and society. Due to the way it synthesizes scientific theory and concepts from molecular biology, the book will serve as food for thought for those more familiar with the debate.« Die Zeit

»It is an astute little volume both authors have given us, one that is interdisciplinary in the best sense of the word.« taz

»What is life? That ancient question has assumed new urgency as today’s genetic discoveries give us previously unimagined ways of looking into and manipulating the basic matter of life. In this pathbreaking volume, Nowotny, are-eminent European social scientist, and Testa, a brilliant molecular biologist and bioethicist, join forces to show why, in the era of genetic transparency, the question must still be asked-even though the answers, as they compellingly argue, are ever more likely to elude us.« Sheila Jasanoff, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard University