Genetics & Genomics

Darwin in the Genome

by Lynn Helena Caporale
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. 256 pages.

The title of the prologue to Darwin in the Genome encapsulates the thesis of the book nicely: "Chance favors the prepared genome." The publisher writes, "Written by a molecular biologist at the forefront of genomics research, Darwin in the Genome is an exciting account of one of the hottest new theories in biology today: evolution by natural selection inevitably leads to strategic mutations. In the struggle for survival, from pathogens to flowers, birds to orangutans, baker's yeast to people, the fittest genomes are those that evolve effective molecular strategies that respond to, and in fact anticipate, challenges and opportunities in their environments."

Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project

by Spencer Wells
Des Moines, IA: National Geographic Society, 2007. 247 pages.

In Deep Ancestry, Spencer Wells, the director of the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project, clearly explains the science behind the project — which is collecting DNA from a wide sample of the world's population in order to understand the evolution of the human genome — and also engagingly relates the stories of five of its volunteers. Describing the book as "concise and well-written," the reviewer for Publishers Weekly writes, "It is a remarkable journey that will appeal to readers of all backgrounds interested in exploring the science and research behind human evolution." Wells's first book was The Journey of Man.

Fly: The Unsung Hero of the Twentieth Century

by Martin Brookes
New York: Ecco, 2002. 224 pages.

From Thomas Hunt Morgan to the present day, the unassuming fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, has been at the center of genetic research. Brookes's lively book follows the fruit fly through the history of 20th-century biology, where it inspired the work of at least three Nobel laureates (Morgan, Muller, and Lewis), all the way to the Drosophila Genome Project. The reviewer for writes, "Brookes's enthusiasm is catching, and Fly will send readers running to their kitchens to catch a glimpse of these scientific superstars."

Genetics and the Origin of Species

by Theodosius Dobzhansky
New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. 364 pages.

Originally published in 1937 (before the discovery of the structure of DNA) and reissued by Columbia University Press in 1982 with a new introduction by Stephen Jay Gould, Dobzhansky's book advanced a comprehensive account of the evolutionary process in terms of genetics. By citing experimental evidence to support the theoretical arguments of Sewall Wright, J. B. S. Haldane, and R. A. Fisher, Genetics and the Origin of Species was one of the seminal works of the modern synthesis, prompting a surge of evolutionary studies throughout biology. A classic of enduring value.

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

by Matt Ridley
New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. 344 pages.

In his preface to Genome, Matt Ridley — the zoologist-turned-science-writer who wrote The Red Queen and The Origin of Virtue — describes the original plan for his book: "Why not try to tell the unfolding story of the human genome, now being discovered in detail for the first time, chromosome by chromosome, by picking a gene from each chromosome to fit the story as it is told?" And that is what precisely he did, in clear, instructive, and lively prose. James Watson praised Genome as "[a] lucid and exhilarating romp through our 23 human chromosomes that lets us see how nature and nurture combine to make us human."


edited by Hillary E. Sussman and Maria E. Smit
Woodbury, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2006. 475 pages.

From the publisher, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press: "Hundreds of genomes have been completely sequenced in the past decade, significantly advancing our understanding of genome structure and function. Genomes comprises a collection of review articles reprinted from the 10th Anniversary Issue of the journal Genome Research that captures the status of genomic research in a selection of model species — from microbes to human. Written by renowned leaders in the field of genomics, each chapter focuses on what has been learned from the genomes of a given kingdom, group, or species and offers a unique perspective on the history, the current status, and the future of genomic research efforts."

Lateral DNA Transfer

by Frederic Bushman
Woodbury, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2002. 448 pages.

Although lateral gene transfer was observed in bacteria almost fifty years ago, only recently are biologists beginning to appreciate its extent and significance. In Lateral DNA Transfer, Frederic Bushman provides a helpfully selective introduction to LGT; as the reviewer for Nature Cell Biology comments, "Rather than attempting to be an exhaustive resource for researchers in the field, his book aptly samples from the vast literature and takes special efforts to make it palatable and relevant to a wide audience." Bushman discusses LGT in bacteria and archaea, in eukaryotes (including a chapter on LGT and the AIDS epidemic), and even among the domains of life.

Not a Chimp: The Hunt to Find the Genes that Make Us Human

by Jeremy Taylor
New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 256 pages.

Reviewer Jonathan Marks summarizes, “Jeremy Taylor argues that (1) we are genomically more different than the 98–99% datum has indicated; (2) we are cognitively and behaviorally more different than the inhabitants of the post-Goodall world have been led to believe; and (3) the elision of human and chimpanzee, as animal-rights advocates have promoted, is unwarranted. He documents all three points admirably.” A weakness of Taylor’s argument, Marks adds, is that it fails to address the question “Why should we suppose that genetic relationships are ‘realer’ or just ‘more important’ than other kinds of relationships?” and thus “takes the privileged position of genetics for granted.”

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics

by Larry Gonick and Mark Wheelis
New York: Collins, 1991. 224 pages.

The author/illustrator of The Cartoon Guide to the Universe teams up with the University of California at Davis microbiologist to explain the basics of genetics in words and pictures. First published in 1983, and updated in 1991, the longevity of The Cartoon Guide to Genetics is testimony to its usefulness. The reviewer for TIGR's Genome News Network writes, "The amount of detail is impressive. ... The major strength of [The] Cartoon Guide is that the drawings by Larry Gonick are close to brilliant at presenting the physical events of the cell and the gene."

The Impact of the Gene

by Colin Tudge
New York: Hill and Wang, 2002. 384 pages.

From the publisher: "In the mid-nineteenth century, a Moravian friar made a discovery that was to shape not only the future of science but also that of the human race. With his deceptively simple experiments on peas in a monastery garden in Brno, Gregor Mendel was the first to establish the basic laws of heredity, laws from which the principles of modern genetics can be drawn. In this fascinating account, acclaimed science writer Colin Tudge traces the influence on science of Mendel's extraordinary ideas, from the 1850s to the present day, and goes on to ask what might happen in the coming century and beyond."

Welcome to the Genome

by Rob Desalle and Michael Yudell
Wilmington, DE: Wiley-Liss, 2004. 240 pages.

In their lively and illustrated introduction to genomics, Rob Desalle and Michael Yudell discuss how the genomic revolution came to pass, what it amounts to, and what prospects and perils await. The reviewer for Natural History described Welcome to the Genome as "engagingly written and illustrated in full-color ... an essential guide for those who want to understand — and participate in — the accelerating promise of the genomic revolution." DeSalle curated the American Museum of Natural History's Genomics Revolution exhibit; Yudell is a professor of public health at Drexel University; and together they edited The Genomic Revolution: Unveiling the Unity of Life (Washington DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2002).