- Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (23 Mar. 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099584573
- ISBN-13: 978-0099584575
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.1 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 66 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Gene: An Intimate History Paperback – 23 Mar 2017
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"With a marriage of architectural precision and luscious narrative, an eye for both the paradoxical detail and the unsettling irony, and a genius for locating the emotional truths buried in chemical abstractions, Mukherjee leaves you feeling as though you’ve just aced a college course for which you’d been afraid to register ― and enjoyed every minute of it" (Andrew Solomon Washington Post)
"[Siddhartha Mukherjee] is the perfect person to guide us through the past, present, and future of genome science… It is up to all of us―not just scientists, government officials, and people fortunate enough to lead foundations―to think hard about these new technologies and how they should and should not be used. Reading The Gene will get you the point where you can actively engage in that debate." (Bill Gates Gatesnotes)
"The Gene is prodigious, sweeping, and ultimately transcendent. If you’re interested in what it means to be human, today and in the tomorrows to come, you must read this book." (Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See)
"Dramatic and precise... [A] thrilling and comprehensive account of what seems certain to be the most radical, controversial and, to borrow from the subtitle, intimate science of our time... He is a natural storyteller... A page-turner... Read this book and steel yourself for what comes next." (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times)
"The story […] has been told, piecemeal, in different ways, but never before with the scope and grandeur that Siddhartha Mukherjee brings to his new history, The Gene. He fully justifies the claim that it is “one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science.” … Definitive" (James Gleick New York Times Book Review)
From the Inside Flap
Spanning the globe and several centuries, The Gene is the story of the quest to decipher the master-code that makes and defines humans, that governs our form and function.
The story of the gene begins in an obscure Augustinian abbey in Moravia in 1856 where a monk stumbles on the idea of a 'unit of heredity'. It intersects with Darwin's theory of evolution, and collides with the horrors of Nazi eugenics in the 1940s. The gene transforms post-war biology. It reorganizes our understanding of sexuality, temperament, choice and free will. This is a story driven by human ingenuity and obsessive minds - from Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel to Francis Crick, James Watson and Rosalind Franklin, and the thousands of scientists still working to understand the code of codes.
This is an epic, moving history of a scientific idea coming to life, by the author of The Emperor of All Maladies. But woven through The Gene, like a red line, is also an intimate history - the story of Mukherjee's own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness, reminding us that genetics is vitally relevant to everyday lives. These concerns reverberate even more urgently today as we learn to "read" and "write" the human genome - unleashing the potential to change the fates and identities of our children.
Majestic in its ambition, and unflinching in its honesty, The Gene gives us a definitive account of the fundamental unit of heredity - and a vision of both humanity's past and future.
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The power of the idea can be seen today in the way personal genomics is revolutionising drug development, therapy and precision oncology – preventing and treating diseases taking into account individual variability in genes , environment and lifestyle. Genomics is being combined with Artificial Intelligence to mine vast amounts of genetic information for new clues about disease, diagnosis or treatment and combining the amazing potential in AI and genetics for opening new horizons in healthcare.
Why is the idea dangerous? Because like the other two profoundly destabilising scientific ideas of the atom and the byte that richochet through the 20th century, the gene has transformed culture, society, politics and language.
Mukhergee goes right back to the first steps in understanding the mechanism and influence of genes with Mendel and Darwin and roller coasters through the 20th century. The scientific progress falls into 4 stages ; the establishment of the cellular basis of heredity: the chromosomes; the molecular basis of hereditary :the double helix; the informational basis : the genetic code and sequencing of the human genome; and finally the era of genomics: the deciphering, reading and understanding the human genome and developing medical applications.
He tells history is told in an extremely personal and readable way describing how scientists built on each others’ contribution with accelerating progress. The book is full of detective stories – for example how it had taken Morgan and his team three decades to collect fifty fly mutants in New England. Then one night in 1926 Muller discovered the effects of radiation and mutated half that number in a single night. Or for example, the detective work of Watson and Crick in discovering the double helix structure of DNA following the groundbreaking work of Linus Pauling, Robert Corey, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin.
There is a feeling of balance in Mukhergee’s account of the race for sequencing the human genome, once Muller had discovered the way to copy a human gene in a test tube. The US National Institute of Health (NIH) was chosen as the lead agency to sequence the entire human genome with the US’s DOE and the UK’s Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust joining the effort. However a little known, pugnacious, single minded neurobiologist at the NIH, Craig Venter, proposed a shortcut to genome sequencing. James Watson and the NIH were appalled at not only at Venter’s technique but at his proposal to patent genes. Scientists at Stanford had patented methods to recombine pieces of DNA to create genetic chimeras, Genetech had patented processes to express proteins such as insulin, Amgen had filed a patent for isolation of erythropoietin using recombinant DNA but nobody had patented a gene or piece of genetic information for its own sake. The race between the US and UK’s public agencies and Craig Venter’s privately funded company Celera was on. The Wellcome Trust doubled its funding and congress threw open the slices of federal funding. But a kind of truce was struck and in 2001 the Human Genome Project and Celera both published their results of the sequencing of the human genome marking the start of the era of genomics.
But the history of the gene is told not just from the angle of scientific discoveries. The social effects of the development of the genetics are explored.
The history of eugenics and its misuse widely in the USA for sterilising imbeciles to improve human intelligence is shown to be based on a totally fallacious theory of hereditary. The Nazi eugenic experiments and the holocaust gruesomely exposed the danger of false science.
The Asilomar meeting in 1973 of leading virologists, genetiscists, biochemists and microbiologists addressed the growing concerns about gene – manipulation techniques. Asilomar II in 1975 got unanimous support for ranking the biohazard risks of genetic recombination.
This has resulted until recently in three unspoken principles which guide the arena of genetic diagnosis and intervention. Firstly diagnostic tests have been restricted to gene variants that are singularly powerful determinants of illness – for examplehighly penetrant mutations like Downs syndrome and cystic fibrosis. Secondly, the diseases caused by these mutations have generally involved extraordinary suffering. Thirdly justifiable interventions have been defined by social and medical consensus, and all interventions have been governed by complete freedom of choice.
But these boundaries could be loosening from these originals - of high penetrance genes, extraordinary suffering and justifiable interventions - to genotype-driven social engineering. Mukherjee provides examples of genetic diagnosis being transformed into clinical and personal realities. Individuals are inspired to get our personal human genome mapped which could lead to determining genetic fitness. Individuals are not so easily governed by guiding principles.
Evidence of the influence this book has had on me is that I have now set out to get my personal genome sequenced!
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The book lived up to its billing one-hundred fold for me.Read more