Although sequencing the human genome has brought speculation about all kinds of results--from curing to cloning--another sort of scientific payoff is in the works. In Jacob's Ladder
, former UCLA professor Henry Gee shifts focus from the applied science of genomics to the basic research questions that can be addressed with this new information. "To describe the sequencing of the genome as a technical feat," he writes, "is to miss the point." Gee is most excited about the possibilities of understanding what makes us all human, rather than the individual genetic variances that make us individuals. He examines the genome as a motif representing the "pinnacle of human self-knowledge." Further, he claims that the philosophical shadow of Darwin has made us forget that one of the central questions of our being is how all of us are made from nothing, or rather from everything. To redirect thought, he closely describes how genes control the development of every human, both within and before each individual lifetime. While Gee's ideas are large enough to support a book on this by now well-covered subject, general readers will likely be put off by his somewhat dry and academic style. --Therese Littleton
From Publishers Weekly
So we've sequenced the human genome. Now what? Gee, a writer for Nature
and former professor at UCLA, tackles this question in his examination of how nature generates "form from the formless." Gee takes his title seriously, describing not only the history of human understanding of biology, but also the history of the evolution of the genome itself. Stories of homunculi and Darwin's legendary journey to the Galápagos lead seamlessly into discussions of the first life to appear on earth. Gee uses comparative genomics to draw a vivid history of the evolution of life, tying together the usually distinct fields of embryology, genetics and evolution. The crowning gem of this work is the last section on the new network theory of genomics. Gee draws the reader into the new field of computational biology and shows that having the sequence of the human genome is just the beginning. By modeling how the thousands of genes act on and with each other, we can finally begin to answer questions like, where do new species come from? How does a single egg turn into a human baby? How does natural selection affect the genome? Why is there any variation at all? The author knows the details of molecular biology, and he's not afraid to use them. The text is littered with terms like "blastocyst," "T4 bacteriophage" and "Hox genes," though all are carefully defined. Because of this level of sophistication, this fine book is difficult enough to be more suitable for the amateur scientist than for the dabbler. 25 illus. not seen by PW
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