Friday, July 05, 2013

How One Book Leads To Another...

It's all Lone Frank's fault.  I just finished her book My Beautiful Genome and it was just so interesting, it whetted my appetite to learn more.

I have long been interested in Genetics. In fact one of the first non-fiction books I bought - as a holiday treat from my parents - was a book called Genetics.  I've been trying to find it, but I can't.  It was one of those general taster type books, and I remember being fascinated.   Then, later, I read Genome by Matt Ridley, which is still popular, I see...

The thought of this sent me down to the bookshelves in our living room to where there is a cache.  I found The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

plus three by Steve Jones, including the illustrated In the Blood which I'm reading now.

My Beautiful Genome is a book about the impact (and future impact) of genetics on our lives.  The first section, after a general introduction, is about the use of DNA to trace ancestry.  This, I'm afraid, led me even further astray with The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer now tempting me from the bookshelf of my Kindle,

and Out of Eden by Stephen Openheimer on its way to me courtesy of Royal Mail.

A chapter on self led me to order a memoir by A.M. Homes, The Mistress's Daughter, which came this morning, and is half-read already,

and then a chapter on how genetic profiling can be used to treat illnesses led me to not only rout out the Steve Jones books, but also order a book called Introduction to Genetic Analysis by Anthony Griffiths et al.

Luckily, I already had The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey on my ipad already, so the Epigenetics section was not as expensive.

 My Beautiful Genome itself is a really good book - highly entertaining and absorbing.  Lone Frank has my favourite sort of humour - self-effacing - which I sometimes found laugh-out-loud funny.  I also learnt a lot about how what we are and how we behave depends on our genes.  Of course, I kind of knew this already, but it's all here in the detail, which makes it so much more fascinating.   For instance, just a small change in a gene can change a single amino acid in a protein (monoamine oxidase (MAOA)), and this in turn can make us more agressive or depressed: a 'warrior' or a 'worrier'.  Putting it like this makes it sounds simple, but it's made complex by the huge number of genes, and the even larger number of possible ways they can interact.  The changes identified so far (in particular the genes coding for the enzymes catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT), brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), the DRD4 dopamine receptor and the Seronin transporter (SERT) are thought to go some way to explain racial tendencies, and raise some interesting questions on the implications for society.  I learnt a lot.  I think it is going to be one of those books that change my world view.  I'm really glad I read it - even though my purse is now quite a bit lighter.


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