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GENOME by Matt Ridley


The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters

by Matt Ridley

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2000
ISBN: 0-06-019497-9
Publisher: HarperCollins

A rare event: a scientific paradigm shift going on in our own time, lucidly explained. Since the discovery of DNA’s symmetrical structure by Watson and Crick in 1953, life scientists have decoded much of the human genome, the digitally sequenced software of life consisting of thousands of genes, which in turn consist in total of a billion “words” of three-letter combinations, housed in 23 pairs of chromosomes. Molecular biologists anticipate that the first rough draft of the genome will be complete in 2000 and that a more detailed copy will be ready a few years later. Ridley (The Origins of Virtue, 1997, etc.), a former editor of The Economist, deftly takes up the story of the genome in 23 chapters. In clear, entertaining prose, but without dumbing down the subject for nonscientists, he uses each chapter to explore one effect of distinct genes, and the information they carry, on an important aspect of human life—the origins and history of our species, aging, intelligence, personality, sexual behavior, disease, memory, and death. It is startling to learn that some of our genes date from a time when our ancestors were fish or primates, that we are genetically almost identical to chimpanzees, that genes are engaged in combat with one another, that behavior and genes may shape each other, and that genetic combinations may predispose an individual to homosexuality, Alzheimer’s disease, or criminality. But even more amazing are the applications of this knowledge for any discipline that takes mankind as its subject. Ridley notes that molecular biology has already revolutionized cancer research, helped to trace the migrations of peoples, and raised resonant questions for philosophers and policymakers alike. Eminently readable, compelling, and important. (Print satellite tour)