Armstrong’s sensible review of anti-aging science concludes that its goal is achievable—but not yet.

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BORROWED TIME

THE SCIENCE OF HOW AND WHY WE AGE

An exploration of aging that answers all readers’ questions except how they might reverse it.

Innumerable enthusiastic authors have revealed how to achieve vast longevity, but British science writer Armstrong (P53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code, 2015) confines herself to genuine aging research, the scientists who engage in it, and the problems they face. It turns out that the news is not all bad. Early theorists pointed out that germ cells (ova and sperm) are immortal; every other body cell (the soma) supports them. Once the organism has reproduced, somatic cells have served their purpose, so evolution removes them to make room for a new generation. “Just because aging is a natural process that happens to us all inexorably…it doesn’t mean that it is either healthy or intractable,” writes Armstrong, who emphasizes that aging seems wasteful. After all, evolution designed a complex process to build an adult from a tiny embryo, but then it falls apart. Wouldn’t it be easier to keep it working than to build it in the first place? Scientists have discovered many mechanisms of aging whose fashions wax and wane. Perhaps harmful genetic mutations gradually accumulate. Perhaps free radicals, chemical products of metabolism, slowly oxidize our defenses. This remains debatable among scientists, but “antioxidants” have become a bestselling health product. Another preoccupation is the telomere, a cap on every chromosome that shortens with each cell division. Once the telomere becomes too short, the cell stops dividing and enters senescence. Keeping it long may be the solution—or maybe not. Stopping the immune system’s steady decline with age seems a possibility. Other researchers hope to tap our body’s immature stem cells. These retain the ability to mature into every kind of tissue, so this would permit creation of fresh young replacement organs.

Armstrong’s sensible review of anti-aging science concludes that its goal is achievable—but not yet.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4729-3606-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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

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LAB GIRL

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. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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