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UNRAVELLING GENES by Mark Walker

UNRAVELLING GENES

A Layperson’s Guide to Genetic Engineering

By Mark Walker (Author) , David McKay (Author)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-86508-086-1
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Australian geneticist Walker and microbiologist McKay offer a simple guide to the exciting field of genetic engineering.

Everyone knows that the new genetics—genetic engineering, cloning, the human genome project—will revolutionize our lives. Asked how their lives have been revolutionized so far, most readers come up blank. This is not ignorance but reality, because 20 years of the new genetics have produced only a scattering of modest advances. Yet anyone who reads the newspaper knows that amazing changes are just around the corner. Using figures and charts liberally, the authors describe how scientists isolate human genes, classify them, and insert them into bacteria, which become factories to pour out useful drugs and hormones. Later chapters explain the technique of producing genetically engineered plants and cloned animals, and the book finishes with an explanation of human gene therapy. Unlike other guides to this subject, which relate only the dramatic discoveries, Walker and McKay explain the mechanics behind such finds. Locating a single gene in a living cell is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack—and that's the easy part. Plucking it out, making a million copies so that it can be identified, then carefully inserting it into the correct slot in a different cell is an awesome achievement. Explaining this for a lay reader is also no mean feat, and the authors succeed. Despite their complex subject matter, Walker and McKay write for unsophisticated readers, and educated adults may find the tone irritating. The authors love analogies: DNA is like a set of architectural plans, a cell is like a house, enzymes are like little robots that keep the house in order. Topics usually begin with a question ("What are plasmids? Plasmids are small, circular fragments of DNA").

Despite the cuteness, though, a user-friendly guide to the nuts and bolts of genetic engineering.