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Genes in Conflict: The Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements Hardcover – January 15, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0674017139 ISBN-10: 0674017137 Edition: 1ST

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 632 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1ST edition (January 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674017137
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674017139
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,634,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Robert Trivers is an under-appreciated genius, and one of history's greatest thinkers in the analysis of behavior and emotion.
--Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works.

Most of us have met at least one person who stands out as the epitome of logical thinking, someone you can trust to see the flaws in any erroneous conclusion and resolve the needle of signal in a haystack of seemly discordant data. Austin Burt is that person for me, and his new book on genetic conflict reflects this intellectual prowess.
--Bill Rice

Genes in Conflict is a well-written and beautifully organized synthesis that forges a link between evolutionary and molecular biology. It should be read by evolutionary biologists wishing to learn more about the menagerie of selfish genetic elements and by molecular biologists wishing to gain some evolutionary insights into their particular systems.
--David Haig

Just over ten years ago, Trivers joined forces with geneticist Austin Burt for a detailed study of selfish genetic elements, and Genes in Conflict is the result of their fruitful collaboration. The book is the first of its kind and admirably fills an empty niche.
--James F. Crow (Nature 2006-03-30)

Genes in Conflict, by evolutionary geneticist Austin Burt and biologist Robert Trivers, is the first book to review the vast empirical literature on selfish genetic elements. It reveals how widespread these elements are in nature, what evolutionary effects they have had on fundamental aspects of the genetic system itself (such as its size, organization, and degree of recombination), and how they influence reproduction, development, and behavior. While enthusiastically addressing the ever-accelerating advance of genetic conflict studies, the authors also take care to identify many open questions. Their fascinating and comprehensive book provides a gold mine for anyone entering the field.
--Peter Hammerstein and Edward H. Hagen (Science 2006-04-28)

Genes in Conflict is an important contribution to biology and to the humanities: for biology, because it collects and represents a comprehensive source of information on the developing understanding of selfish Code; for the humanities, because it forces a reconceptualization of what all of "life" is, and then perhaps, what it might become.
--Nicholas Ruiz III (Metapsychology)

Genes in Conflict is the first book to review all aspects of this topic in depth...At just over 600 pages, it is a weighty and impressive work, and will undoubtedly serve as the major source of reference for years to come...Few, if any, biologists have expert knowledge on all of these fields, and many of the facts that they describe were unknown to me. I have certainly learnt a lot about systems of which I was ignorant or only dimly aware. For the topics where I do know something, the level of accuracy is very high...Genes in Conflict is an outstanding contribution to the literature on evolution, and can be read profitably by all kinds of biologists.
--Brian Charlesworth (Current Biology)

Burt and Trivers offer a comprehensive, extensively referenced description of selfish genetic elements in eukaryotes. The book begins with a summary of these elements, followed in subsequent chapters by in-depth descriptions of specific classes of selfish DNA...In addition to providing a detailed description of various forms of selfish DNA, the book discusses a number of interesting topics relating to these genetic elements...Faculty would find many of these topics a useful springboard for discussions in genetics and other classes.
--P. Guilfoile (Choice)

Thought provoking...In their 602-page opus, Burt and Trivers provide a plethora of exciting case studies. Although there is no lack of data to discuss, the authors emphasize repeatedly how little we really know about this area of evolution and biodiversity. I found the tone of this book to be very engaging. It is full of details that have been woven together into a very readable, well-organized package. Of importance for the nonspecialist reader, Burt and Trivers succeed in conveying complex concepts in population genetics without using mathematical equations...What a gift to graduate students and all researchers who are just entering this field of evolutionary biology! I found at least a dozen good projects for Ph.D. theses suggested within the pages of this book, and I am sure that there are many more.
--Fred Gould (American Scientist 2006-11-01)

Some genes take advantage of the environment created by the cooperation of most of the others to advance their own rate of transmission. With their book Genes in Conflict, Burt and Trivers bring to the forefront this intragenomic treachery revealing that genetic incompatibilities are diverse in form, widespread in nature, and perhaps most provoking is that these conflicts have significantly influenced the evolution of genomes, populations, and species. To this end they have synthesized a huge body of literature with the goal of understanding all aspects of genetic conflict in eukaryotic genomes without ignoring any fact of biology where studies have been done. Much of this literature had lacked previous review...In each chapter Burt and Trivers are careful to demarcate the numerous questions awaiting answer, ending the book with a summary of future directions, as well as a provocative list of host features that they propose have arisen as the result of genetic conflict...This book is an incredible resource for any scientist interested in evolutionary genetics. Burt and Trivers have tackled a huge breadth of topics without sacrificing depth. They are able to compare sometimes seemingly disparate phenomena suggesting numerous connections that are either worthy of further exploration or at least provide the fodder for further debate. This book serves as the perfect primer for those interested in exploring the dark side of the genome and understanding some of the perhaps-underappreciated forces that may have acted to shape it.
--Ellen J. Pritham (American Journal of Human Biology)

In a meticulously assembled, thought-provoking and sometimes deliciously speculative textbook, Burt and Trivers' Genes in Conflict documents the selfish genetic elements that populate eukaryotic biology. Reading this book from a narrow viewpoint, one could see it as a recurrent tale of genetic conflict, but even from that perspective, the staggering variety of selfish strategies it discusses alone makes it worth reading. A broader view of this compilation is as a recurrent tale of genetic opportunity, revealing the innovative and insidious nature of genes as they vie with each other in complex sociogenetic negotiations for evolutionary survival...The overwhelming value of the book is the opportunity it highlights, as there are unanswered questions even in the best-studied instances of selfish genes. It both serves as a guidebook and a "call to arms" for the next generation of inquisitive students, hopefully whetting their appetites and leaving them asking for more.
--Harmit S. Malik (Nature Genetics 2007-05-01)

I highly recommend this volume for all practitioners of evolutionary genetics. It seems particularly suited for graduate seminars and reading groups. Some passages require heavy lifting, even for specialists, but the effort is well worth it. Burt and Trivers have written a masterpiece.
--Norman A. Johnson (Quarterly Review of Biology)

About the Author

Austin Burt is Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Imperial College London.

Robert Trivers is Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University. Professor Trivers has been named 2007 winner of the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences.

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Customer Reviews

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Transposable elements are described as being the most prevalent of the selfish genetic elements.
Dr. Lee D. Carlson
While the book is well-organised, effectively illustrated, and containing a useful glossary, it is the references that give it a firm underpinning.
Stephen A. Haines
With so much detail on the each topic within the chapter, the summary is pretty well written out.
Mehul M. Vora

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The concept of a "selfish gene" has made its way into the popular and semi-popular press, and because of this has provoked many discussions in ethical circles as well as in the area known as evolutionary psychology. Some of these discussions attempt to set the record straight on just what biologists mean when they talk about selfish genes. This book could be considered part of these discussions, and offers the reader a fascinating account of the science behind what the authors call selfish genetic elements. The book however is not written for the popular audience, but instead assumes a strong background in genetics. However the authors have included a terminology section in the back of the book to assist non-experts in genetics (such as this reviewer). The authors are very careful to make distinctions between what is known about selfish genes and what constitutes speculation. For readers who still need more discussion over and above what the book gives, there is an extensive list of references included. In addition, the authors include a very detailed summary of the book in the last chapter.

Every page of this book is filled with interesting insights, and many questions are answered as well as raised. Some of the questions that this reviewer found interesting include:

1. What are the natures of genomic exclusion systems wherein chromosomes are discarded from one parent and transmit only those from the other parent?

2. Why did paternal genome loss (PGL) evolve? Was it because of bacterial endosymbionts manipulating the chromosomes of their hosts, and if so, what evidence is there for this? How common is PGL?

3. What is hybridogenesis and in what species does it occur? Why did it evolve?

4. Androgenesis is the loss of the maternal genome.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By ephemeral on May 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Burt and Trivers have produced an encylopedic compilation of examples of selfish genetic elements. There is a wealth of information available in this book, but you have to work hard to wade through the authors' ambiguous wording, contradictory phrasing, utterly confusing tables and figures, and almost complete lack of follow-through on any of their ideas. This book is not for the general public. I read it with a group of professors and graduate students who focus on evolution, and we had a hard time getting through it.

Despite the problems with the book, I recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in this subject area. It's a great reference and source of ideas. It also provides a solid overview of what research has already been done and what remains to be conducted. Furthermore, it has some amazing examples of organisms with truly bizarre natural histories; those parts of the book are fascinating to read.

Overall, I'd say if you really think you'd be interested in this topic, buy the book. But be prepared to work hard while reading it, and expect to be frustrated with it on a regular basis.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
What a long strange trip it's been for Robert Trivers, who during the early 1970s was one of the most brilliant evolutionary theorists ever. Now, I'm happy to see he's back with a magisterial tome co-written with Austin Burt on "selfish genetic elements" that don't raise the Darwinian fitness of the organism as a whole, just of themselves, often at the expense of the overall life form.

As a crude analogy for what Trivers and Burt are describing, think of the Enron Corporation. Traditional economic theory, which bears many resemblances to traditional evolutionary theory, would conceive of that firm as an entity that competes against other firms for the good of its shareholders. Unfortunately, old fashioned economics did not prove an adequate guide to Enron's behavior because the firm was infested with "selfish managerial elements," executives who were looting the firm for their own selfish benefit.

Of course, developing a better understanding of Enron-like situations does not "refute" economics, just adds to its sophistication. Similarly, Trivers and Burt are adding to the explanatory power of Darwinism. Just as firms struggle to develop carrots such as stock options to to align individual managers' interests with the interests of the stockholders, and sticks to prevent embezzlement, organisms evolve responses to selfish genetic elements.

One quibble. I realize that this horse long ago left the barn, but Richard Dawkins' term "selfish gene" has caused a lot of misunderstanding among the public over the years. A better term might be "dynastic gene."

My Enron analogy can be misleading because what the "selfish genetic elements" are doing is not making themselves rich, per se, but contriving for copies of themselves to proliferate. The closest business analogy might be a firm damaged by nepotism, such as Wang Computer in the 1980s, where managers appoints their feckless relatives to important positions.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mehul M. Vora on December 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was EXTREMELY lucky to have taken an one-on-one course with Dr. Trivers and I must say that he's the first to both praise and point out pitfalls in this book.

While being the most definitive guide to the subject out there, it can at times be very technical and hard to understand. Especially the chapters on genomic imprinting, exclusion (for me). However, I feel that this complexity only arises from the fact that the chapters are written out with as much detail as possible (as you will be able to see from the pages and pages of references in the bibliography).

Each chapter comes with its relevant illustrations, with the figures for mechanisms of selfish drive being the most important ones. Figures showing data can be complicated and at times, he even CALLED the authors while I was in class to answer a question I had.

The book is very well organized with the authors laying out the background followed by each chapter dedicated to a specialized genetic element. Work on B chromosomes, genetic imprinting, sex chromosome and autosomal drive are particularly well written with implications and mechanisms detailed out with the latest (uptil time of publication) information.

The only think lacking that I thought from the book was a better and more thorough summary chapter at the end, but then again I'm just being picky. With so much detail on the each topic within the chapter, the summary is pretty well written out.

Finally, I want to add that this is a book on evolution and the evolution and role of selfish genetic elements in shaping the evolution of host genomes (if it happens at all). It can get technical but the subject is never introduced in any form of education that I have experienced so the concepts were relatively new to me.
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