Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

  • THE BOOK
    • The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
    • Published May 17, 2016
    • The author also wrote The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which I have read

  • THE PREMISE
    • Going back to the ancient Greeks and their ideas on heredity this book covers the history of the gene, even before it was "discovered" in the 20th Century.
    • The father of modern genetics is the obscure Czech monk Gregor Mendel and his experiments on pea plants. He did not know what a gene was, of course, but he figured out that children inherit traits from each parent that could be passed on to future generations.
      • He crossed yellow pea plants with green pea plants. Every plant in the second generation was yellow (because yellow is dominant and green is recessive). When the second generation plants were crossed with each other then (on average) a fourth of the plants were green, even though all the parent plants were yellow. 
        • This proved that the all yellow second generation plants still carried the green trait (the gene) to be able to produce green third generation plants.
      • Darwin's ideas on inheritance are covered as well. He never knew of Mendel's work and if he had then the study and understanding of genetics might have gotten a better head start.
    • Eugenics, the philosophy and practice to create better humans, began and gained acceptance in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. (The Nazis were fans and used eugenics principles to create laws in the 1930s.)
    • There's an in-depth look at the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.
    • The author uses examples from his own family (hereditary schizophrenia) which adds a personal touch to the topic.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I enjoyed this book, especially the history of Mendel and Darwin and all the men (and a few women) who came after them.
    • My complaint would be that, instead of a photo section (I know what Darwin looked like and his photo adds nothing to my understanding of genetics), there should have been a few more diagrams. 
      • It has been a few decades since I took biology and I have forgotten exactly how things look in a cell.
      • I get that DNA is in the cell and I understand how the double helix splits apart to make an identical copy of itself before the cell divides into two identical copies. But where, exactly, are the genes and chromosomes located?
      • I think he explains it in the writing but personally I need more visual aids!
    • Because my husband's family has a case of an inherited disease moving through the generations, I read with interest the future of genetics. Will there be a day when gene therapy --- replacing the "bad" gene with a good copy --- can cure those with inherited diseases?
      • For my son's, nieces' and nephews' sake, I sure hope so.
    • Recommended for those who like reading about biology topics.

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