Published February 21, 2022

Jorge L. Contreras, author of The Genome Defense, received his law degree from Harvard and teaches intellectual property, science policy, and genetics law and ethics at the University of Utah. He has been featured in several publications including ScienceNature, and on NPR, BBC radio, and more.

Get to know Jorge in this Q&A and then see him at the Festival in March discussing his work in a FREE virtual event, Who Owns Your DNA? on March 17 at 6 PM ET.


What motivated you to become an author? 
I’m an academic, so I write articles and books as part of my daily work. Yet most of these are specialized works that are intended for an academic audience. The Genome Defense is my first attempt at a book for a general audience. I set out to write it because the issues the book addresses are important to many people, yet most don’t know much, if anything, about them. In short, I wanted to tell a broad audience about some of the legal decisions that affect their lives in a way that’s understandable and relatable at a human level. 

Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Though the story is “about” seemingly complex, dry topics like patent law and genetics, I wanted to tell it through the eyes of the people who were there. As a result, I studied legal fiction, the best of which is fast-paced, engaging and character-driven. Authors who do a great job in this style, and who influenced the way I wrote the book, are Dan Brown, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton (who has a cameo appearance in the book). Beyond style, however, I am a fan of deeply-researched histories and biographies that are written for a general audience. Erik Larson, David McCullough, Ron Chernow, and Walter Isaacson do a great job of bringing historical figures and events to life, and strongly influenced my research and writing. 

What was your favorite part about writing your latest book?
I interviewed nearly 100 people for this book, and meeting every one of them was a pleasure. I wanted to tell their stories, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity they displayed both with their time and their personal experiences. There would be no book without them, and I am deeply appreciative that they shared their lives with me.

What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers? 
I hope that readers come away with a better appreciation for how our legal system works and how it can be changed by people who really care about its effect on others.  

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?
When reading history, I am continually amazed and humbled by just how much I don’t know. I recently finished Ron Chernow’s monumental biography of Ulysses S. Grant, and there were so many instances when I stopped and said to myself, “Wow—that happened? I had no idea!” Booth almost assassinated Grant instead of Lincoln? The US almost annexed the Dominican Republic, and requested that Britain hand over Canada as in reparation for helping the Confederacy during the Civil War? There was a complete financial meltdown in the 1870s? Yes! The perfect book, for me, is one that keeps my attention, but teaches me something about the world and, best of all, helps me to look at familiar things in a new light 

What are you working on next?
There are so many amazing stories out there. I’m still trying to figure out which ones I can do justice to. 

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With generous support from Michelle and David Baldacci

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