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Before I read this book my understanding of genetics was quite naive, I thought DNA made proteins, and if there are mutations in the DNA code then that leads to trouble, such as cancer. But only 2% of the human genome makes protein - what is the other 98% for?

Also consider this: A caterpillar that becomes a butterfly has exactly the same DNA - so why do they look so different?

The answer is 'epigenetics'. Whenever two genetically identical individuals are non-identical in some way we can measure, this is called epigenetics. This also includes an individual at different point in their life. For example why does horrendous abuse as a child often lead to problems later in life - is it psychological or is it embedded in the very genes of the person?

In the following sentence, before I read this book, I mostly understood the word 'within'.

"Histone Acetylation and DNA methylation within a CpG motif in the promoter region mediates gene expression ...."

By half way through this book I understood what this meant.

The author never hides the gritty details from the reader unlike many patronising popular science books that shy away from the scientific detail in case the reader finds it too difficult. She takes you step by step through the main details of epigenetics and the technical language used. It is not difficult, but you do have to take it slowly to digest the information.

To make the subject a bit lighter, the book is dotted with dry humour and pithy literary quotes.

Epigenetics is such a new field that many of the key players are still alive and working away in their laboratories and earning Nobel prizes along the way. She introduces you to some of the leading scientists and the contributions they are making. For example Professor Sir John Gurdon worked for ten years to explain why most cells remain forever of the same type through permanent gene inactivation, it explains why liver cells never become brain cells. Professor Yamanaka is one of the youngest luminaries in the stem cell and pluripotency field. He and his team has managed to convert adult cells back into pluripotent stem cells, thus offsetting the sensitive issue of using embryonic stem cells.

The latter half of the book covers the application of epigenetics. It starts with cancer and all its complexities and why we are unlikely to hear "Boffin finds cure for cancer" as there are many, many routes to cancer.

Then she moves on to mental illness such as schizophrenia and the role this new science may play along with the possible link between memory and genetics.

In one chapter the issue of ageing is discussed and its genetic underpinnings and are we likely to find drugs to help us live longer?

Finally, the topic of plant genetics is covered and she explains how a bee, a human and a tulip share very similar molecular mechanisms but they use them in a different way.

Throughout the book there are references to source material and these are found in the back of the book if you want to learn more (which I do).

Epigenetics is only just getting started and the author refers to conferences that occurred even as late as 2011. This is leading edge science.

It is a fascinating book. Yes, it is a technically demanding book. But if you are keen to get a deeper understanding of the future of genetics then I highly recommend it.
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on 27 October 2011
What a fabulous book! I couldn't put it down - best page turner I've read for years. Nessa Carey hits just the right note - beautifully clear and pitched at just the right level. She walks you gently through the science, building it up layer by layer, constantly reminding you of the basic facts without making you feel an idiot. All the history of epigenetics, right up to the most current research is covered, with a competent and knowledgable guiding hand. This book makes you think and question everything and it delivers answers to the most intriguing questions. Not only that but it was laced with humour and literary quotes that made reading it a delight. Hats off to Nessa! (Although everything is explained, I would warn readers that a basic knowledge of genetics would be an advantage.)
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on 2 January 2012
Word of warning - I may gush! I'm no biologist, but Nessa Carey manages to make epigenetics clear and incredibly interesting to me. This is not an easy read, in that it requires one to think and occasionally to do a little mental gymnastics to get one's head around the concepts she introduces, but nevertheless it's the kind of book that can be gulped down in large servings because Carey is skilled at explaining these high-falutin' concepts so well.

The topics range from inherited traits to cloning and back again, and I found even the descriptions of how certain experiments were undertaken were such that they read incredibly well. This is a book that could havebeen dry as dust, but it's not.

I think probably one where the time taken to read the sample is well spent - I'm sure some people just won't find this that interesting - but if you are at all interested in science, biology, DNA, and the mystery of how things are and aren't passed on, then this is a must read. Absorbing, educational, and downright fascinating. Brilliant.
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on 13 September 2011
The promises of the widely hailed genomic revolution did not materialise.The mapping and sequencing of the human genome failed to set in motion great medical breakthroughs because it could only produce a map of the assembly software.It did't explain how it functioned with only 2% of the genome coding for proteins.The DNA blueprint is certainly a starting point but it isn't a sufficient explanation for the complexity of life.It is a script open to multiple interpretations rather than an unchanging mould.

Epigenetics is the new discipline that is revolutionising biology.It has found in Nessa Carey a most engaging and lucid exponent.She writes in a clear non patronising manner using interesting and witty analogies to bring to life a lot of dry biochemical or genetic concepts.Barely a page passes without a new morsel of knowledge is offered with enthusiasm.
Epigenetics describes the set of modifications to our genetic material that changes the ways the genes are switched on or off without altering the genome.Epigenetic modification doesn't change the sequence of a gene but it alters how and when the gene is expressed. It explains how two organisms can be genetically identical yet phenotypically variable, examples identical twins divergence,queen bees and worker bees,catterpillar and butterfly.

The Epigenome is the missing link between nature and nurture as it reflects environmental differences. Epigenetic modifications are heritable in the short term but do not involve mutation of the DNA . It is the mechanism behind transgenerational Lamarckian inheritance ,for instance poor food availability during crucial gestational development may lead to later pathological consequences visiting two successive generations.Even a father's diet can directly influence the gene expression and health of his offspring.The organism can be affected by an environmental event long after this initiating event has occurred.Research shows that abuse and neglect in childhood can often result in mental illness in adulthood through epigenetic mechanisms modulated by hormonal signalling during critical developmental stages.

The diverse applications of this new biological revolution are truly mind boggling whether in cancer research. ageing research, cloning process,sex linked disease or the study of memory.Epigeneticists are likely to be at the forefront of the next batch of Nobel prize candidates.

The book is a real tour de force, it is timely and informed by the latest genetic research described in an approchable style for the non expert.Its optimism is contagious though I have my reservations about cancer cure or delaying ageing.The genetic story is just beginning to unfold and there is still a lot more to come.This is a good place to start, it is certainly the best popular book on Genetics I have read since Matt Ridley's" Genome".
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on 5 December 2013
Breifly, the authoress knows her topic without question and the book opened my eyes to a plethora of information I was unaware of.

That said, the book for me was very taxing to read. I will admit that my knowledge of biology and chemistry stops at a college level. I have had no problems absorbing complex physics/other books and i feel this book is very much not pitched correctly at any level. It leaps from overly simplified analogies of say 'Imagine a grape inside a tennis ball' - that are really not needed and jumps straight into pretty advanced concepts that should be the ones simplified for general understanding.

I am not a fan of leaving poor reviews or diminishing anothers work, but honestly i think this is poorly structured/written. Anyone with a casual interest may find this a struggle and taxing as I did, constantly having to use wikipedia to clarify certain aspects. Those already versed in the field should know much of the contents already and thus surely has limited value to them.

I accept that possibly it's just me, bieng stupid, but this is the first book I have ever got actually frustrated with, and I tolerated the ramblings of Machievelli, countless theoretical/quantum physics papers and the vaugeness of 'Iconic' Psychiatrists.
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on 24 December 2014
I predominantly read non-fiction, a lot of which includes popular science books. Good ones can be quite hard to come by as most scientists are notorious for not being able to explain complex concepts in a way that is accessible to people without extensive background knowledge. You tend to end up with two types of popular science writers, which are a) those researching an area themselves who clearly make an effort in their teaching and consequently explain things very well (e.g. Anton Damasio), and those who are not actively involved in research themselves but can summarise research in an accessible way that tells a good story (e.g. Richard Dawkins, Alice Roberts). I do not think that Nessa Carey falls into either category, and as a result this book fails to deliver. There are essentially two problems: 1) the way that the book is organised does not really tell a story, so each chapter does not build on the previous one and 2) some of the concepts are simply not explained well, so that technical information is introduced in a way that does not help the reader to understand. Essentially what you have is a general explanation of how epigenetics is thought to work, followed by chapters that describe areas of study to which this has been applied. Now some of the chapters seemed quite variable, and there were times when I did not think the author knew the area very well (e.g. the chapter on mental illness), but that may be because I already knew something about these areas. This makes me wonder whether the same could be true of other chapters, but I may have had insufficient background knowledge to pick up on this.

I was sufficiently interested in the topic to hit the internet and read articles on some of the topics covered here, many of which were considerably better written and easier to follow than this book. For instance I would suggest interested readers to look at some of the articles by Cath Ennis, who is involved in research into the contribution of epigenetics to cancer. I would recommend looking at some of the articles on the net as a starting place rather than buying this book.
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on 11 October 2011
Brilliant book and understandable for even a layman like me. Fascinating insight into today's research looking at inherited characteristics and their importance in diagnosing and hopefully preventing current life-threatening illness.
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on 2 September 2011
I enjoyed this book as it was easy to understand, funny and interesting. I now understand all this genetics stuff they keep on about in the news and media. I have got my head around terms like epigenetics, gene therapy and stem cells. It is an area that is changing all the time as new discoveries are made, especially in the last 5-10 years.

I like the references to things that I understand in the real world like the life of Audrey Hepburn.

What interested me was Dr Carey said that our DNA is not a fixed code but more like a screen play to a film that can be made differently depending on the director, cast, crew etc. If our Genes are the original book then Epigenetics is the screen play. So different versions of the same book make very different films. Therefore what we eat and our environment can effect out genetic make-up for our children and grandchildren. Dr Carey describes it much better that I can in this review!
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on 29 May 2016
Some of the science in this book would at first glance look incomprehensible if it weren't for the amazingly clear narrative text. Using a chatty style and with thorough detailed explanations some complex ideas are clearly laid out.
I picked it up because I wanted to know just what DNA methylation was and I came away learning that and much more.
It needs to be read in chronological order because subsequent chapters build on previous explanations. I came with a basic knowledge of genetics which was sufficient for understanding. The basics are given as well, but don't detract from the more detailed scientific content. I would say it is suitable for anybody with GCSE biology behind them, but imagine most readers will be educated to A level or beyond. If you have a degree in genetic science this will be too simple for you.
I can say that I have not enjoyed a non-fiction book so much in a long time. Definitely recommended.
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on 16 August 2016
Question: If every cell in the human body is contains the same DNA .....why are the cells in my eye so different from those in my foot?
The Answer , here given with some clarity , and in unpretentious language , is that the eye is produced by transcribing ("reading") a different length of the DNA script from that which produces the foot!
A second question then arises: would it be possible to produce any cell by transcribing a specific subset of DNA?
The Answer is again clearly given that any cell could be transcribed from a subset of DNA.
The Author has cleverly given some historical , and personal insight , into the discovery process.........making this a scientific, and personal, detective story , with concealed education!
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