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In the Beginning Was the Worm: Finding the Secrets of Life in a Tiny Hermaphrodite [Paperback]

Andrew Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2004
This book is an account of the first great triumph of genomics: the thirty-year struggle to decode the complete DNA of a nematode worm. Success in this was what made the human genome project possible. IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORM is an exciting but scrupulous account of a genuine scientific triumph, which will delight both those who know the subject and those who don't. IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORM tells of some remarkable characters who have changed our approach to science irrevocably, among them Sydney Brenner, a heroic dreamer who first thought of understanding an animal as a sort of biological Meccano; John Sulston, his first post-doctoral student, who managed to raise GBP30 million; his friend, Bob Horvitz, who has, to all intents and purposes, spent more than thirty years studying the 22 cells of a worm's vulva; and Fred Sanger, the only man to have won two Nobel Prizes in the same discipline. Decades of painstaking research triumphed in 1998, when this worm was the first creature to have all its DNA mapped -- but now what? We still don't know how to build a single worm. In this intriguing story of dreams and disillusionment, Andrew Brown contemplates the next fifty years of biological science, and the way that ignorance expands to surround all available knowledge.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; New edition edition (2 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743415981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743415989
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,336,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Andrew Brown is a freelance journalist who writes extensively for the SUNDAY TIMES, the INDEPENDENT and the DAILY MAIL. In 1995 he won the Templeton Prize as the best religious affairs correspondent in Europe. As well as THE DARWIN WARS he is the author of a highly acclaimed book on the London police called WATCHING THE DETECTIVES.

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little critters with big secrets 22 Sep 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
The revelations about life promised when the structure of DNA was deduced weren't immediately obvious. In fact, the more investigations proceeded, it was obvious it became that intense study and analysis would be needed. The inheritance of traits, both physical and behavioural, is a difficult mesh to unravel. Research on single-celled organisms, like E. coli, offered only part of the answers. Even the long years of work with fruit flies only hinted at how genes made bodies and habits. An intermediate creature was needed in order to map out how the DNA did its job. That creature was the humble nematode, about as long as your fingernail is thick. In this highly informative book, Andrew Brown traces the years of study undertaken by scientists and technicians to cut away some of the unknowns to derive answers.

"Cut away" is suggestive. The earliest work required understanding how the worm was assembled by its genes. That effort entailed slicing the worm in bits to map all the interconnections. For a creature made of less than a thousand cells, its body proved anything but simple. One researcher spent three decades studying the vulva of this hermaphrodite. Another, a technician, learned the finesse required to section the nerves in order that the pathways the wires followed could be tracked. No end of complexity was revealed and some of it remains mysterious today. Brown credits childhood habits that contributed to the talents these researchers applied to worm analysis. The "nerve-cutter" did jigsaw puzzles, while another was one of those kids constantly taking things apart - and reassembling them - when he was young.
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