Feature Genes

Must-Have Genes for the Fall Season

I just started reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010), the book any well-read genetics fan will recommend to you before any other book. This story tells the amazing history of the biggest advancement in genetics and the terrible ethical cost for which it was won. As a casual fan of science these days, it is difficult to think about all the new advancements in genetics without also considering the ethics and results these technologies will have on the future of culture. This selection of new fall titles does a good job of hitting the science and ethics behind DNA research.


You: A Natural History by William B. Irvine


9780190869199-Oct1You: A Natural History offers a multidisciplinary investigation of your hyperextended family tree, going all the way back to the Big Bang. According to evolutionary biologists, you are a member of the species Homo sapiens and as such have ancestral species that can be plotted on the tree of life. According to microbiologists, you are a collection of cells, each of which has a cellular ancestry that goes back billions of years. A geneticist, though, will think of you primarily as a gene-replication machine and might produce a tree that reveals the history of any given gene. And finally, a physicist will give a rather different answer to the identity question: you can best be understood as a collection of atoms, each of which has a very long history.  (October 2018)


Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin


9780262039161-Nov13A top behavioral geneticist makes the case that DNA inherited from our parents at the moment of conception can predict our psychological strengths and weaknesses.  Plomin has been working on these issues for almost fifty years, conducting longitudinal studies of twins and adoptees. He reports that genetics explains more of the psychological differences among people than all other factors combined. Genetics accounts for fifty percent of psychological differences―not just mental health and school achievement but all psychological traits, from personality to intellectual abilities. Nature, not nurture is what makes us who we are. Plomin explores the implications of this, drawing some provocative conclusions―among them that parenting styles don’t really affect children’s outcomes once genetics is taken into effect. (November 2018)


Genetics Ethics: An Introduction by Colin Farrelly


9780745695037-November12Farrelly applies an original virtue ethics framework to assess challenges posed by the genetic revolution. Chapters discuss virtue ethics in relation to eugenics, infectious and chronic disease, evolutionary biology, epigenetics, happiness, reproductive freedom and longevity. This fresh approach creates a roadmap for thinking ethically about technological progress that will be of practical use to ethicists and scientists for years to come. Accessible in tone and compellingly argued, this book is an ideal introduction for students of bioethics, applied ethics, biomedical sciences, and related courses in philosophy and life sciences. (November 2018)


Lamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present by Peter Ward


9781632866158_augEpigenetics upends natural selection and genetic mutation as the sole engines of evolution, and offers startling insights into our future heritable traits. Lamarck’s Revenge is an eye-opening and provocative exploration of how traits are inherited, and how outside influences drive what we pass along to our progeny. (August 2018)

“The best introduction so far to one of the most controversial elements of 21st-century evolutionary science.” ―Kirkus Starred Review



The Re-Origin of Species: A Second Chance for Extinct Animals by Torill Kornfeldt


9781947534360_nov6Scientists across the globe are working to resurrect all kinds of extinct animals, from ones that just left us to those that have been gone for many thousands of years. It seems certain that these animals will walk the earth again, but what world will that give us? And is any of this a good idea? Science journalist Torill Kornfeldt traveled the globe to meet the men and women working to bring these animals back from the dead and answer these questions. (November 2018)



Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Evolution, Genetics, and Life on Other Worlds by Mohamed A. F. Noor


9780691177410_bseptAnd a little sci-fi fun: Noor offers Trekkies, science-fiction fans, and anyone curious about how life works a cosmic gateway into introductory biology, including the definitions and origins of life, DNA, reproduction, and evolutionary processes, such as natural selection and genetic drift. For instance, he shows how the rapid change in a population of nanite robots follows basic principles of natural selection that apply to species on Earth. He explains how certain creatures depicted in the series are bisexual, not asexual, and what evolutionary advantage that difference provides. And he considers factors that affect successful interspecies mating and delves into what keeps species distinct. Noor discusses the importance of research and how Star Trek has influenced scientists to engage in cutting-edge work. (September 2018)


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