Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
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The genome's been mapped.
But what does it mean?
Arguably the most significant scientific discovery of the new century, the mapping of the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome raises almost as many questions as it answers. Questions that will profoundly impact the way we think about disease, about longevity, and about free will. Questions that will affect the rest of your life.
Genome offers extraordinary insight into the ramifications of this incredible breakthrough. By picking one newly discovered gene from each pair of chromosomes and telling its story, Matt Ridley recounts the history of our species and its ancestors from the dawn of life to the brink of future medicine. From Huntington's disease to cancer, from the applications of gene therapy to the horrors of eugenics, Matt Ridley probes the scientific, philosophical, and moral issues arising as a result of the mapping of the genome. It will help you understand what this scientific milestone means for you, for your children, and for humankind.
viewpoint to influence your scientific opinion. Those fighting pollution are keen to blame pollution for the increase in asthma. Those who think we have gone soft attribute asthma to central heating and fitted carpets. Those who mistrust compulsory education can lay the blame for asthma at the feet of playground colds. Those who don't like washing their hands can blame E N V I R O N M E N T 67 excessive hygiene. Asthma, in other words, is much more like real life. Asthma, moreover, is the tip
the language of determinism I used for Huntington's disease on chromosome 4. The A to G change at position 46 on the ADRB2 gene plainly has something to do with asthma susceptibility, but it cannot be called the 'asthma gene', nor used to explain why asthma strikes some people and not others. It is at best a tiny part of the tale, applicable in a small minority or having a small influence easily overridden by other factors. You had better get used to such indeterminacy. The more we delve into the
than more equal. But 86 GENOME it is none the less a paradox: in egalitarian societies, genes matter more. These heritability estimates apply to the differences between individuals, not those between groups. IQ heritability does seem to be about the same in different populations or races, which might not have been the case. But it is logically false to conclude that because the difference between the IQ of one person and another is approximately fifty per cent heritable, that the difference
start training for its special role at conception. In our case, the sex-determining gene made us male and the lack of it left us female, whereas in birds it happened the other way round. The gene soon attracted to its side other genes that benefited males: genes for big muscles, say, or aggressive tendencies. But because these were not wanted in females — wasting energy they would prefer to spend on offspring - these secondary genes found themselves at an advantage in one sex and at a
the story (high cholesterol is a risk factor, but only in those with genetic predispositions to high cholesterol, and even in these people the beneficial effects of eating less fat are small). It relegates diet, smoking and blood pressure - all the physiological causes so preferred by the medical profession — to secondary causes. It relegates to a footnote the old and largely discredited notion that stress and heart failure come with busy, senior jobs or fast-living personalities: again there is