From the veteran science writer who brought us Genomes, Browsers and Databases (2008) comes a compendium for laypeople on the breakthroughs of molecular biology.
With backgrounds in education and physics (among other disciplines), Schattner has intended this volume to help curious and intelligent readers explore the world of molecular biology. He uses six sections to illuminate a vast array of topics, beginning with “Proteins and Genes: The Constituents of Life,” which builds a scaffolding to more complex areas of knowledge. Throughout, stories about real people help ground the detailed science. In the section “DNA: Our Link to the Past and the Future,” we learn how family histories can be traced through genetic testing (using Jewish and African-American ancestries as examples) and how glimpses of prenatal DNA may help parents prepare for their child’s arrival by detecting potential diseases (like Huntington’s) early. Sections III (about gene regulation) and IV (epigenetics) showcase the workings of phenomena like sleep, kindness, love and memory (frequently citing animal studies) by explaining how these phenomena can malfunction at the molecular level. Next is the “Nature and Nurture” discussion, covering how genes affect human longevity, athleticism, intelligence and language. The final part focuses on gender, behaviors (like aggression) and emotions (pleasure and fear) as seen through the lens of molecular biology. In this thoroughgoing work, author Schattner writes crisply, offering lucid definitions to technical terms. For example, the double helix refers to “two strands of the DNA molecule...bound together in a very specific manner in which certain bases are always matched.” He also lets us know, thankfully, that there is an ethical line he’d rather not cross with regard to animal testing: “[T]he moral implications of changing monkey DNA make many people (including me) uncomfortable.” Schatter occasionally seasons with a dry wit that will keep readers from being overwhelmed by so much information; e.g., he warns of “logistical challenges” if a Great Dane and a Chihuahua were to mate. Further volumes would be most welcome.
A marvelous entrance for those ready to plunge into popular science.