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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I recommend it, 30 Nov 2001
This review is from: The Human Genome (Hardcover)
In 1953, two Cambridge University researchers, Francis Crick, an Englishman, and James Watson, an American, published a paper in the scientific journal Nature, proposing a structure for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). The rest is history, as they say. Crick and Watson were feted for having discovered the secret of the molecule of life, and duly awarded a Nobel prize.
Nearly fifty years on, in 2001, a no less momentous article appeared in Nature by an international consortium, whose joint researches, from Boston to Beijing, had produced the first draft sequence of the human genome - the three billion bits of information, in the form of DNA bases, that each of us inherits from our parents. The significance of this event has been compared to the landing on the moon and even to the invention of the wheel.
Copies of the celebrated 15 February issue of Nature that carried the article sold out almost before they hit the news stands. But it is reproduced in a striking new book called The Human Genome.
Edited by two senior Nature journalists, and with a foreword by the great James Watson, The Human Genome explains to the non-expert what all the fuss is about. Starting with an explanation of technical terms such as cells, genes and DNA, the editors describe the functioning of DNA in cell replication and protein production, before turning to the techniques of DNA sequencing, gene cloning and how, aided by new technology, these developments led to the first draft of the human genome. Elsewhere in the book, human genetic makeup is compared with those of other organisms. What a blow to our collective ego to discover that we have only 30-40,000 genes - not so many more than the mustard weed's 26,000! The social, medical and ethical implications of this extraordinary breakthrough are also considered, including genetically based diseases, gene patenting and health insurance, as the editors look forward to the completion of the human genome project by 2003. The second half of the book comprises reprints of the aforementioned Nature article and the commentaries that appeared in the same issue.
For people like me, who aren't familiar with the intricacies of modern biology, this book was a demanding read, but a very rewarding one. As well as a wealth of technical information, the book contains special features on various topics such as the iconic status that DNA has attained since Crick and Watson's discovery, particularly its use in advertising, and a diverting chapter full of quotations from the press and famous people about the human genome project and its possible consequences, eg "It is conceivable that our children's children will know the term cancer only as a constellation" (Bill Clinton). The book is illustrated in full colour throughout with copious photographs, diagrams, computer graphics and the occasional cartoon, and includes a handy glossary - all aiding accessibility for the non-expert reader. And even the fabled Nature article - because its message is fundamentally addressed to all of us - is deliberately written, say the editors, in a more accessible way than is usual for scientific papers. However, I reckon any non-biologist might find the article tough going, as I did, and will probably just quickly skim it.
In short, I can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in finding out about this cutting-edge science beyond the sensationalist headlines, or who wants to know more about why we are the way we are and what this might mean for us in the future. Amazingly, we are told, we vary from one another in our genetic makeup by as little as 0.1 per cent, but that difference accounts for some three million differences between us as individuals!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a fascinating book., 27 Nov 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Human Genome (Hardcover)
I learnt a lot about genetics and DNA from this book.
It contains a beautiful reprinting of the "Nature" journal paper about the first analysis of the human genome sequence - state-of-the-art stuff. But it also includes a number of extra chapters that introduce and explain many of the terms and concepts of genetics, making the subject understandable to dummies like me and to people from many fields and levels of education.
Now I understand why DNA has become such an icon, and I feel like I know what advances and problems to watch for in the next few years, as science starts taking advantage of having the human genome sequence.
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The Human Genome
The Human Genome by Carina Dennis (Hardcover - 24 Oct 2001)
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