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Mobile DNA: Finding Treasure in Junk (FT Press Science) [Hardcover]

Haig H. Kazazian
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31, 2011 0137070624 978-0137070626 1

This book thoroughly reviews our current scientific understanding of the significant role that mobile genetic elements play in the evolution and function of genomes and organisms–from plants and animals to humans. Highly-regarded geneticist Haig Kazazian offers an accessible intellectual history of the field’s research strategies and concerns, explaining how advances opened up new questions, and how new tools and capabilities have encouraged progress in the field.


Kazazian introduces the key strategies and approaches taken in leading laboratories (including his own) to gain greater insight into the large proportion of our genome that derives from mobile genetic elements, including viruses, plasmids, and transposons. He also presents intriguing insights into long-term research strategies that may lead to an even deeper understanding.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

A Richly Engaging Review, History, and Prospective on Mobile DNA


Haig Kazazian reviews our current scientific understanding of mobile DNA and its role in the evolution and function of genomes and organisms, offering an in-depth portrait of the developing perspectives and research strategies pursued by the workers in his own laboratory. He presents an engaging history of the field, showing how advances have presented unexpected new questions, and how new tools and techniques have promoted further progress. Coverage includes: multiple types of mobile DNA; retrotransposition and other key concepts; important mobile DNA research advances in the human genome, mammals, and plants; mobile DNA’s role in increasing genome plasticity and diversity; and the roles of leading scientists in moving mobile DNA research forward. Kazazian concludes with informed reflections on the possible biological roles of mobile DNA, and his own current best guesses about how a number of the leading questions currently under active investigation will likely be answered.

About the Author

Haig H. Kazazian, Jr. received his A.B. degree from Dartmouth College in 1959. He then attended Dartmouth Medical School, a two-year school at the time, and finished his M.D. degree at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. At Hopkins, he met his wife of nearly 50 years and married during his internship in Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Hospital. After two years training in Minneapolis, he returned to Johns Hopkins for a two-year fellowship in genetics with Barton Childs, M.D. He then trained for two years in molecular biology in the lab of Harvey Itano, M.D., at the NIH. After a third year of Pediatric training at Johns Hopkins, he joined the faculty there in 1969. He rose through the ranks to become a full professor in 1977, and at that time, he headed the Pediatric Genetics Unit. In 1988, he became Director of the Center for Medical Genetics at Johns Hopkins.


After 25 years on the Hopkins faculty, he was recruited to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine as Chair of the Department of Genetics in 1994. At Penn, he recruited 10 young faculty to the department. In 2006, he stepped down as department chair, but remained as the Seymour Gray Professor of Molecular Medicine in Genetics until 2010. In July 2010, he returned to Johns Hopkins as a Professor in the Institute of Genetic Medicine. Dr. Kazazian is still heavily involved in molecular genetic research, concentrating for the past 20 years on mammalian and human transposable elements, or “jumping genes.” Prior to 1988, he characterized much of the variation in the cluster of genes involved in production of the beta chain of human hemoglobin. With Stuart Orkin at Harvard, his work led to the nearly complete characterization of the mutations causing the β-thalassemias, common anemias in regions of the world endemic for malaria.


Dr. Kazazian is a member of a number of national organizations, including the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received a number of honors for his research, most notably the 2008 William Allan Award, the top honor of the American Society of Human Genetics.


Product Details

  • Series: FT Press Science
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (March 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0137070624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0137070626
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,669,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a very thorough and up-to-date review of the current knowledge regarding mobile DNA, or "jumping genes". Mobile DNA was first discovered in 1950 by Barbara McClintock, who was initially greeted with skepticism but eventually was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for her work in this area. The various types of mobile DNA make up a substantial percentage of the total genome of many life forms, but their role in evolution and whether they influence fitness under natural selection is still unclear.

The author is a true expert in his field. He exhaustively covers the topic, perhaps too exhaustively. I found myself initially intrigued by the first few chapters, which present a nice overview of mobile DNA and the major unanswered questions in the field, but then I became progressively less interested as subsequent chapters covered increasingly specialized "niche" aspects, most of no apparent relevance to anything beyond the molecular biology of mobile DNA itself. The author tried to enhance the interest of these chapters by tying the work described with the people doing the work, but for the most part this was limited to thumbnail sketches. I'm sure many of these people are interesting in their own right, but you'd never know it from this book!

I found myself wondering what the target audience of this book is. The first few chapters appear to be targeting a general readership with limited background in molecular biology and genetics, by including a brief overview of the chemistry of nucleic acids, and a glossary of relevant terms in the back. But I suspect this will be insufficient for many readers. Many technical terms are used without any attempt at definition or inclusion in the glossary.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charles Darwin Would Be Surprised! April 5, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is really a text book on Mobile DNA for students of molecular biology, biochemistry, genetic medicine and molecular genetics. The author, Haig Kazazian, a Professor of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, presents the history of DNA research in a highly detailed, well researched, and scholarly manner.

The emphasis, however, is not on the actual science, per se, (although the science is very much present) but rather on the historical context, the inter-relationship of the many scientists whose brilliance, hard work, commitment and collegial communication and close relationships have contributed to our present day understanding of this extraordinarily important field.

Scientific understanding is built one arduous step at a time, with current and future research based on the total of the massive collective knowledge that preceded it. Breakthroughs in science owe their debt to the painstaking research of those who came before. It is this collective, cooperative, collegial world of scientific research that Dr. Kazazian carefully and lovingly portrays as "research adventures" in the quest to fully understand the genome.

"Charles Darwin would be surprised" is the first sentence of the first chapter of this book. Yet, Kazazian admits that scientists are often totally surprised by their findings. It is extraordinary to think that prior to 1950 there was no real understanding of mobile DNA and introns were only first discussed in the late 1970s! Scientists now know that mobile or transposable DNA accounts for a least of 50% of human genomic DNA. Once thought of as purposeless "junk", it is the mapping of type and function for this mobile DNA that is the subject of this book.

There is so much happening in current genomic research, Kazazian provides the context, the history and the state of current knowledge as well as provides predictions for future findings.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Professor Kazazian's specialties are in population genetics of active L1 retrotransposons in humans, genome diversity, and of course ultimately human evolution. This 250 page book is a good summation of current research into mobile DNA. Professor Kazazian has a no-frills writing style and sticks to the subject at hand without needless bombardments of arcana or waxing too historical. This makes for a somewhat dry but good read.

I also enjoyed the concluding chapter where Kazazian makes some predictions about future discoveries of the science: e.g. most L1 retrotransposition occurs in early development, that retrotransposons have a small but significant role in the etiology of many complex diseases, and that studies of ancient human remains show that the human genome is continuing to expand at between 1 and 10 million base pairs per million years, heavily influenced by retrotransposition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Exciting Work on Mobile DNA April 7, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I was at CalTech in the 1950's, I visualized (as many others did) that DNA was a blueprint for the structure of each of the proteins in a living cell). DNA seemed to be fascinating and hugely important, but static, stuff. Then, Sterling Emerson told me about Barbara McClintock's finding that segments of DNA might be mobile. In this fine book, Kazazian provides an elegant picture of the development of the concept of mobile DNA, and a look at our present knowledge of the phenomenon. He devotes many chapters to the work of a series of postdocs in his laboratory that provide increasing knowledge of mobile DNA. The text reads smoothly, but a knowledge of genetics and molecular biology is helpful. This is a readable and important contribution to the understanding of mobile DNA.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Mobile DNA
Good for geneticists who want an overview of research into transposons or genetics students who are thinking about research careers. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Atra Bilious
3.0 out of 5 stars Not For The Layperperson
I am a fairly knowledgeable science teacher, and simply want to note that this book would be inaccessible to all those who do not possess a graduate degree in a biological science. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Gengler
3.0 out of 5 stars Over-my-head Overview
I studied biology (though not genetics or molecular biology) at the graduate level, and I like getting my bio fix when I can. Read more
Published 21 months ago by E. Kennen
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for Pros, Not for Amateurs
I tried both hard and unsuccessfully to understand this book. I then gave it to a friend who is a professor of biology. His report is that it is excellent. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Mostly Mozart
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book
Transposable elements are not much discussed in Biology and Genetics books; after all those books are more interested in genes and proteins. Read more
Published on May 3, 2012 by Piano Player
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book, a little too technical for me
Disclaimer: I am reviewing an advance unproofread copy that I received for free through the Vine program. Read more
Published on April 5, 2012 by Christopher K. Koenigsberg
3.0 out of 5 stars Impenetrable to a layperson -- who is this for anyway?
Transposons (DNA snippets that move around in the genome) are actually a fascinating subject, but I'm not sure if this is the book to teach it. Read more
Published on March 14, 2012 by Brian Connors
3.0 out of 5 stars Nearly impenetrable for a layperson, but who is this for to begin...
Transposons (DNA snippets that move around in the genome) are actually a fascinating subject, but I'm not sure if this is the book to teach it. Read more
Published on March 14, 2012 by Brian Connors
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating information
Mobile DNA is a very interesting, up-to-date look at the evolution of studies in the field. While mobile DNA was discovered and suggested in 1950, it took a long time for many... Read more
Published on August 24, 2011 by Wixby Bonnet
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but heavy reading
I have long been interested in evolution and just how it works. A big part of that would seem to be to figure out how DNA works. Read more
Published on July 20, 2011 by CandysRaves (and Rants)
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