The scientific history of the gene that regulates cancer in humans.
"Because most molecules are smaller than the wavelength of light," writes Armstrong (A Matter of Life and Death: Conversations with Pathologists, 2008, etc.), most of what transpires in molecular biology is unseen. However, with the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953, under the right conditions, scientists suddenly had something visible to work with, enabling them to decipher the components of human cells and how they interact with one another. Armstrong details the extensive research that has gone into one gene in particular, p53, which regulates the body's ability to fend off cancer. First concretely identified in 1979, the scientific interest in p53 waxed and waned as researchers around the world, working in isolated labs, analyzed this gene in a variety of scenarios. Without excessive jargon or detail, the author leads readers through years of experiments conducted by exemplary scientists in their respective fields. Armstrong chronicles the numerous disappointments and eureka moments when the research yielded unexpected and significant discoveries on how and why p53 plays such a huge role in regulating the production of cancerous tumors. As scientists continue to work with and manipulate this gene, they learn more about how it functions, which will help them create courses for cancer treatment that are highly personalized to an individual's genetic background. This would ease many of the side effects currently suffered by cancer patients, such as hair loss and nausea. Armstrong's narrative is informative and entertaining for those with a medical or scientific background or readers who have an interest in scientific breakthroughs, but it may be less appealing for more general readers.
A well-written examination of the complex world of scientific research, focusing on a specific gene in the human body.