THE GENE MACHINE

HOW GENETIC TECHNOLOGIES ARE CHANGING THE WAY WE HAVE KIDS—AND THE KIDS WE HAVE

Solid research into the dilemmas regarding genetic screening and how it is used for fetuses and newborns.

When scientific ability and human desire coalesce into a potent tool that can profoundly change life.

As more research is conducted on the human genetic code, scientists, doctors, and parents will have an increasing number of options regarding how this information is used. Beginning with Tay-Sachs, a fatal neurological disease commonly found among Ashkenazi Jews, former Time health and medicine columnist Rochman clearly discusses how genetic screening has helped Jews avoid passing the disease on to their offspring. She also explores the multiple layers of morality and ethics involved in the process of prenatal carrier screening. For those with a definite genetic predisposition to a life-threatening or deadly defect, the testing can provide answers while there is still time to discuss pregnancy or abortion. But what are the options if a fetus is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, or a host of other abnormalities? With the use of in vitro fertilization, doctors can implant only those embryos that show no signs of a genetic abnormality, and parents are making decisions about their offspring based on these genetic tests. These are just some of the difficult scenarios Rochman outlines in the narrative, which is full of interviews with doctors, parents, and those in the scientific community. The author also examines the conflicts surrounding the knowledge of potential problems that only manifest later in life, such as Alzheimer’s disease—should parents be told their child is predisposed? For some parents, the advance knowledge created a state of anxiety, inhibiting their ability to fully relax and enjoy the many nonafflicted years their child had before them. Knowledge can be power, but as Rochman rightly points out, sometimes the ability to know doesn’t mean one should know.

Solid research into the dilemmas regarding genetic screening and how it is used for fetuses and newborns.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-16078-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
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  • New York Times Bestseller


  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Awards & Accolades

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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