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The Mysterious World of the Human Genome
The Mysterious World of the Human Genome
by Frank Ryan
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from $16.40

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep, thorough, and a bit overwhelming, July 22, 2015
One of the things that becomes clear in reading this fascinating book is that sequencing the human genome in 2001 was really just a small step toward understanding the human genome. Another bit of sobering clarity presented here (and perhaps of even more importance) concerns how we as a species are going to use that knowledge for good or ill as we genetically engineer (or not) the human genome.

The central theme of the book concerns two highly significant and somewhat amazing discoveries that are leading us to the modern understanding of how biological inheritance really works and how complex it is. The role of epigenetics (one of Dr. Ryan’s favorite subjects) and the significance of symbiosis in human heredity are highlighted and placed under careful scrutiny. Ryan in part sees epigenetics as “software” to the “hardware” of the genes.

And this brings me to a wider theme, that of living things working together symbiotically as they form an ever evolving ecology. When I first began to study evolution many years ago the idea of cooperation—symbiosis—among microbes, plants and animals was thought to be just a minor part of the overall picture of evolution. We now know that cooperation among species is much more important than a superficial notion of a “selfish gene.” Instead of calling the gene “selfish” better would be to recognize that the gene has a quality of enlightened self-interest and can turn its enemies into friends. Would that our phenotypes were always so clever!

Ryan defines “symbiosis” in the broadest sense of the term to include the early parasitic relationships that are unstable to relationships that neither harm nor help the partners to mutualism in which one or both partners benefit. Perhaps the most important example of mutualism is the relationship between plants and their fungal partners. Ryan calls this an “intimate symbiosis, with the plant supplying the fungus with carbohydrates for energy and the fungus supplying the plant with water and minerals.” (p. 148)

But before the central theme comes a little history. Ryan begins with Oswald T. Avery to whom the book is dedicated and others as he recalls their early work toward discovering the means through which biological characteristics are inherited. They discovered DNA. He follows this up with a very readable account of how James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosaline Franklin discovered the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953 (with a little (perhaps inadvertent) help from, among others, Linus Pauling!). Ryan makes the people come to life and provides some detail not given in Watson’s famous book The Double Helix.

Ryan then recounts the race to the actual sequencing of the human genome, a race that ended in something like a dead heat between entrepreneur J. Craig Venter’s Celera Genomics and the National Institutes of Health’s Human Genome Project led by James Watson.

The middle part of the book gets more technical as Ryan attempts a crash course in genetics for the layman along with an update on the latest findings and understandings. I found this part of the book challenging to say the least, and a bit amazing. The fact “that roughly 9 per cent of our human genome is now made up of retroviral DNA” (p. 162) gives one pause. As Ryan explains, an analysis of viral coding in our DNA allows us to look back in time and gain insights into “the great wilderness of the prehistory” while telling us about ancient invasions from viruses that infected our ancestors. The earliest known of these human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) entered the human genome “somewhere around 30 million years ago.” (p. 222)

In some way our defense mechanisms were able to take in the viral code and turn it into something positive or at least neutralize it. And now like fossils in our genes the code remains, although in some cases it has been put to positive use. Strange. Ryan sees this as “powerful supportive evidence for virus-human symbiosis at genomic level.” (p. 169) It reminds me of the famous discovery by Lynn Margulis that the mitochondria that power our cells were once invaders that we somehow came to terms with by forming a mutually beneficial symbiosis.

Not so technical and very enlightening is Ryan’s concept of “genomic creativity.” He uses the acronym “MESH” for what he sees as the four distinct mechanisms of evolutionary change. They are “mutation, epigenetics, symbiosis and hybridisation.” (p. 145) Thus our idea of how evolution works has been greatly augmented since the time of Darwin or even from a couple of decades ago.

The next part of the book is about the prehistory and how we evolved from Homo erectus along with three other now extinct humans: Homo neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis, and the most recently discovered “mysterious species,” Denisova hominins. I read with great interest about the latest discoveries via DNA analysis and other evidence (“archaeogenetic calculations”—see p. 219) on how the Neanderthal went extinct and especially what we now know about what the Neanderthal looked like (light skin, probably blond or reddish hair, blue or otherwise light-colored eyes), cogitated (brain bigger than ours with verbal modules), and lived (made thatched huts, made water craft, displayed symbolic ability etc.). Incidentally according to Ryan the Neanderthal is not extinct “but live[s] on as an integral part of our own hereditary pedigree.” (p. 272) In other words we mated with the Neanderthal and our greater numbers absorbed them, and now thirty or forty thousand years later their characteristics have been reduced to about four percent of our genome. In particular I am proud to know (thanks to 23 and Me) that my genome is 3.1% Neanderthal. That’s the 99th percentile!

This part of the book was of particular interest to me as Ryan goes back into the human prehistory and shows us what we have learned due to genetic analysis. The past is literally coded in our genes. Genomic analysis is shedding light on the discussion about how and when we came out of Africa. Also very interesting is the possibility of “a near-extinction event” that reduced the human “population to less than 10,000 individuals, and some think it may have been as few as 1,000.” (See pages 221-222.)

The final part of the book is about how our knowledge and understanding of our genome will change us, our societies and our evolutionary trajectory. Ryan touches on the controversies to come concerning genetic engineering of the human genome as he reveals that the first artificial genome (bacterial) has already been constructed, and that the first human embryo engineered. (See the final chapter, “The Fifth Element.”)

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 17, 2015 2:27 PM PDT


War Stories: 50 Years in Medicine
War Stories: 50 Years in Medicine
Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable man and a remarkable book, July 4, 2015
Dr. Kennedy, who is a surgeon, begins the first chapter with this quote from 1871: “I really do not think the physicians do much good, and as for the surgeons, I think they do as much harm as they do good.”

Of course times have changed and indeed they have changed considerably during Kennedy’s four decades in scrubs. For one thing today’s doctors and surgeons do quite a bit more good than harm. Part of what Kennedy’s memoir is about is chronicling those changes while showing how it was then compared to how it is now.

Then for the first year medical student was 1960 when he was admitted to the University of Southern California Medical School. Complications ensued (not of the medical sort) and his career was put on hold by among other things National Guard service.

But the memoir is not so much a memoir about the life of Michael Kennedy as it is about the life of a doctor in the twentieth century in the United States, especially the life of a surgeon who is often involved in life and death situations where he must rely on his education, experience and good sense. Dr. Kennedy shows in this memoir from an early age that he knew how important education was; that is how important it is in knowing the latest in medicine and surgical techniques and in gaining from the experience of doctors with more experience. He is what most of us would call an excellent student with a sharp, disciplined mind who became an outstanding teacher. Much of what this book is about is teaching: teaching would be doctors, young people in med school, biology majors thinking of being doctors, and especially surgeons what they can expect from a life in medicine.

Kennedy tells us about both his successes and failures, about the good that many doctors and nurses have done and also about where they have failed, and where the system itself has failed. He is not shy about criticizing other doctors although he usually does not. He tells us what it is like to be a patient as well. He includes some interesting stories about patients who did crazy things and made their doctors’ lives extremely frustrating. He tells of patients who would fake conditions, patients who would injure themselves just to get into or stay in a county hospital, patients who would not allow needed surgery, and so on. The range of ailments and conditions that Dr. Kennedy encountered is large, varied, and the uniqueness of each case makes for very interesting reading.

There is only one problem with this book and that is the formidable terminology for the lay reader. Kennedy explains most terms as he goes along but like anyone who uses an arcane vocabulary daily he isn’t always aware that the nonprofessional reader may not know what some words mean. The larger problem for the lay reader is that to really appreciate the book requires an understanding not only of the vocabulary but the kind of familiarity that only experience can bring.

Despite this I was able to read the book with appreciation and a good understanding, and I am no more conversant with medical terms than anyone else.

“War Stories” is an education in itself; it is an adventure that very few of us could have ever experienced; and it is a great primer for aspiring doctors, and possibly a reality check for patients.

I should mention that Dr. Kennedy is the author of A Brief History of Disease, Science and Medicine which I reviewed eleven years ago, calling it a “Splendid piece of work, authoritative and readable.”

—Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


Dawn of Deception: Part I in the David Nbeke Series (Volume 1)
Dawn of Deception: Part I in the David Nbeke Series (Volume 1)
by Dan Fletcher
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
15 used & new from $9.92

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page burner about ivory and rhino horn poaching in Kenya, June 13, 2015
This is an action/adventure thriller set in Kenya in 1996. It involves the most evil of evil villains, a sadistic psychopath who kills, tortures, and otherwise abuses with the kind of sick joy that would embarrass the arch fiend himself. The novel also features a very human but very brave and righteous hero who can take punishment with robotic strength.
At stake are the elephants and rhinos who are being hunted and slaughtered for the Chinese pseudo medicine trade in ivory and horns. Think of the worst sort of third-world graft and corruption and multiply that by a factor of ten and you have Dan Fletcher’s Kenyan government at its despotic worst. How accurate this is I don’t know, but the pure atmospheric and psychological veracity spun out of Fletcher’s laptop suggests that he knows very well what he’s writing about.
The prose is as vivid as the veldt after the rains and as intense as first love and primeval hatred. The scenes of mayhem, murder, and torture fairly challenge belief; and the way the beaten and tortured scream and spit back at their assailants may make the reader believe they have super human strength or are practicing the most amazing stupidity. These people are action-adventure types in the extreme. They are—both the good and the bad guys, and one woman—almost beyond belief.
I’m guessing that most readers will feel compelled to turn the pages until the very end since this is a tale of good versus an evil so vile that the reader must find the man with the two-headed golden amulet hanging from his neck dead in a most horrible way, perhaps caught in an elephant trap would be poetic justice.
Well, maybe that will happen or maybe a rhinoceros will gore him or maybe only something similar or maybe the evil Maliki will be alive for the second installment of Fletcher’s trilogy. At any rate this would make a fantastic movie in which the audience can find identification and a type of catharsis.


Though Much Is Taken, Much Abides: Poems on and for Old Age
Though Much Is Taken, Much Abides: Poems on and for Old Age
Price: $3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars “Try not to die before you die”, April 24, 2015
The title of this collection of poems about the experience of growing old nicely captures Freedman’s theme. It is not merely friends and relatives that have been taken, but a lot of the joy of life has dissipated because you are no longer the person you once were. You can no longer enjoy things the way you could when you were younger; you can no longer do the things you once did so well. Cognitive decline is real and so is the weakening of the flesh.

Yet…much abides. In these “small confessional verses” Freedman celebrates the fact that he can still walk. Yes, walk, and that really is something to celebrate. And he has the great joy of playing with his grandchildren. He can still argue with God and indeed show his impatience with God as in the poem, “I HAVE A WORLD OF MY OWN.”

Saturating these minimalist poems is Freedman’s inner struggle between faith and despair. There is “God” and there is “G-d.” There is how can he do this to my friends and family? How can He allow suffering and death? How, indeed. No one has yet reconciled the perceived evil in the world with an all-powerful and all-loving God.

The poems themselves are written in the simplest, most-straightforward language without clutter, without pretension, even without punctuation. Freedman eschews the comma; a semicolon would be a mortal sin, perhaps. Even periods are missing. The idea is to make the words themselves speak directly to the reader with such clear and unmistakable intent that punctuation is superfluous. One gets the sense that to be clever or fancy would be to be false. I would note that poetry is written in lines and those lines with their capital letter beginnings and their carriage return endings are themselves punctuation.

Freedman’s watch words in the eighth decade of his life are humility and courage—courage to face the awful truth of decline and impeding death; humility to understand that you are just one of countless billions of others who have faced the same challenge. Sun in the morning is hope. Being “a quiet grandfather” means taking criticism with good humor. Freedman tells us:

“I do what I am told
And shut up”

Anyone who has ever been a grandparent knows that this is a good strategy to employ with your offspring and their spouses!

I was touched with his enduring love for others, even those from long ago. And I was able to identify with a man who is ashamed that he takes too long in line at the market, a man who admits he is lost…and yet, although “slow in the morning,” there comes a point in the day when “he is already there.” This theme is returned to in the poem “EACH DAY I COME BACK AGAIN” which ends with the plaintive

“For now”

I was impressed with his courage in being able to declare to the world that he is a failure:

“…I am lost
I am poor
I am old
I am a failure
And my poems are not very good either.”

Ah, a bit of cleverness and a touch of humor! And note that end punctuation after the word “either”! (I throw in these exclamation marks as a little joke because I don’t believe Freedman has ever used one.)

Near the end of the collection in “ALL MEN ARE MORTAL” he touches on an idea that I have found freeing as I too face my inevitable decline and fall. He writes,

“…There is only one of me
I am the only one of me there is
It does not make any sense
That I should leave the world
Without me the world will not have me
Without me how can anything really be?
All men may be mortal
But I refuse to be
It just does not make any sense
And I will never agree”

“Without me how can anything really be?” It can’t. There really is nothing other than life. You never die. You are always alive. Other people sadly die, and you can anticipate your death. Don’t. You are eternally alive and will never experience being dead.

But Shalom Freedman is very far from a failure. His success is not in worldly goods or in the fame he so craved for in his youth. His success is in the courage, endurance and compassion that he has shown and in the life he has lived.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


Sublime Beauty: Hawai'i's Trees
Sublime Beauty: Hawai'i's Trees
by Jim Wageman
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from $18.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book on Hawaiian trees, April 8, 2015
In his Introduction Wageman writes, “…at heart this book is simply a celebration of the beauty of Hawai’i’s trees.” And that it is. The splendid photography of the trees is enhanced by the 12 by 8 inch size of the book. Yes, a coffee table book meant not for erudition or for identifying the trees, but for casual, relaxed appreciation.
The book is in three main parts: Endemic and indigenous trees, Polynesian-introduced trees, and Post-contact trees. There’s a selected bibliography and an index giving the Hawaiian, English and scientific names of the trees. The book is by no means comprehensive. Some introduced plants that are common elsewhere are not presented. The emphasis is on trees that are impressive in some way, either because of their beauty, majesty or economic or traditional importance.
I was a bit fuzzy about the difference between “endemic” and “indigenous.” So I looked up the definitions on the Web. According to the National Geography Style Manual “endemic” means occurring nowhere else. “Indigenous” means native (not brought in from somewhere else) though the plant or animal may occur elsewhere. “Native” implies birth or origin in a particular place.
Another word used in this book that left me a bit puzzled was “calabash.” The word in English usually refers to a gourd, but in Hawaii it refers to
(1) a tree, the calabash (Crescentia cujete), la’amia in Hawaiian and its fruit
(2) A carved wooden bowl
(3) Kids you grew up with who came from the same neighborhood, the same calabash, the same pot, who are called “calabash cousins.” (I got this from a Frontline interview with Kristen Caldwell who identified Barack Obama as a calabash cousin of hers.)

--Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


Stupidparty Math v. Myth: Unmasking the Destructive Forces Eroding American Democracy
Stupidparty Math v. Myth: Unmasking the Destructive Forces Eroding American Democracy
Price: $6.15

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ha, ha, but not so funny if you are actually a card-carrying member of the Stupidparty, April 8, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
In addition to the humor and the detailed information about how things got so, so stupid, there are the many links that Andendall provides to support his thesis. Those links demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that something horribly wrong has happened to the Republican Party.
The “Math v. Myth” in the title refers to what I think is most ignominious failure of today’s Republican Party, a political party that once attracted the better educated elements of the electorate. What happened?

Well, it’s complicated but a big factor is the fact that the Dixiecrats who once voted overwhelmingly for George Wallace and other conservative and racist Democrats are now mostly Republicans. The main result of this is that the “myths” of racism and sexism along with a lot of willful ignorance have supplanted the “math” of science and education.

This book is an illustrated, textual, linked-up entire course on what has gone wrong and why. There are tables comparing the once Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower with today’s embarrassment featuring the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Chaney, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Mitch McConnell, et al.

The way the Republican Party has caved into ignorance and stupidity is almost beyond belief except that, hey, that is the way to win local elections in certain gerrymandered districts. In the final analysis it is the electorate that is stupid, and that even includes a lot of Democrats. The Stupidparty is just a symptom of a larger problem: the dumbing down of America which is the goal of the one percent who are effectively in charge. They want to stay in charge and the way to do that is to foster a fat, docile, malleable and relatively uneducated populous whom they can manipulate through their control of governments (local, state and national), wages, media and advertising.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”


Smart Weigh SMS500 Digital Bathroom Scale, High Accuracy, Dual Color Weight Change Detection and Smart Step-On Auto Recognition for 8 Users, Silver
Smart Weigh SMS500 Digital Bathroom Scale, High Accuracy, Dual Color Weight Change Detection and Smart Step-On Auto Recognition for 8 Users, Silver
Price: $39.64
8 used & new from $28.99

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good family bathroom scale, April 2, 2015
I’m a sucker for scales since I am a fanatic about my weight. So I allowed the Smart Weight people to send me their memory scale. Nice design, slim and elegant, and a little smaller and lighter (4.4 lbs) than my two other bathroom scales.
Pluses:
Just step on (no need to nudge it first which is the case with my Conair Weight Watchers scale model WW59GD)—or was the case since that scale no longer works.
The scale “remembers” up to eight people that have stood on it by approximate weight down to a 4.4-pound differential. If the difference is smaller, the user must double tap the scale and enter a new user manually.
The scale also remembers your weight from the previous time you stepped onto the scale. After giving your current weight it will then display your previous weight and flash red if you have gained weight and green if you have lost weight. Cute.
The memory is easy to clear.
Capacity is up to 400 pounds.
Allows for three weight modes: pounds, kilograms and stones/pounds.
Comes with 4 AAA batteries in the box.

Minuses:
Gives readings to fifths of a pound. Some bathroom scales give readings to tenths of a pound.
The LCD screen is a little smaller than my other bathroom scales which means I have to have my glasses on to read it.
Won’t work properly on the carpet. As with other bathroom scales this one needs a firm surface.

I didn’t calibrate it for accuracy, but it gives readings very similar to other scales I use. The important thing for me is consistency; that is, if I step on the scale and it gives me 178.2 pounds and I step on it again a minute later I want it to read the same. And if I weigh myself before running and I sweat for 45 minutes I can expect to weigh two or three pounds less, and this scale recognizes that.
—Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


Amrita Energy Bars 24 Pack: Mango Coconut + Chocolate Maca
Amrita Energy Bars 24 Pack: Mango Coconut + Chocolate Maca

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent raw nutrition bars, April 2, 2015
The people at Amrita sent me a small box containing six of these bars in the hope that I would eat them and write a review. Well, I did indeed eat them (sharing some with my friends) and now I am, yes, actually writing a review. (First review in many months.) I give them a five-star rating since they are very good tasting for raw food health bars and their ingredients are as pristinely correct as any food could possibly be (at least according to a friend who has been a card-carrying Vegan for over twenty years). Consider this. The bars are:
Non GMO
Gluten free
Soy free
Peanut free
Dairy free
Kosher
70% Organic
They are “seed-based” and “allergy friendly” and “free of the 8 common allergens.”
They contain 185 to 230 calories each. The chocolate maca (dubbed a “protein bar”) is the heavyweight at 230 while the mango coconut “energy bar” comes in at 185. The other flavors are apricot strawberry, apple cinnamon, pineapple chia and cranberry raisin.
They are attractively and neatly packaged in pleasing rainbow colors. Bon appetit!
—Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


Amrita Energy Bars 24 Pack: Cranberry Raisin + Chocolate Maca
Amrita Energy Bars 24 Pack: Cranberry Raisin + Chocolate Maca

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent raw nutrition bars, April 2, 2015
The people at Amrita sent me a small box containing six of these bars in the hope that I would eat them and write a review. Well, I did indeed eat them (sharing some with my friends) and now I am, yes, actually writing a review. (First review in many months.) I give them a five-star rating since they are very good tasting for raw food health bars and their ingredients are as pristinely correct as any food could possibly be (at least according to a friend who has been a card-carrying Vegan for over twenty years). Consider this. The bars are:
Non GMO
Gluten free
Soy free
Peanut free
Dairy free
Kosher
70% Organic
They are “seed-based” and “allergy friendly” and “free of the 8 common allergens.”
They contain 185 to 230 calories each. The chocolate maca (dubbed a “protein bar”) is the heavyweight at 230 while the mango coconut “energy bar” comes in at 185. The other flavors are apricot strawberry, apple cinnamon, pineapple chia and cranberry raisin.
They are attractively and neatly packaged in pleasing rainbow colors. Bon appetit!
—Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


Amrita Energy Bars 24 Pack: Apple Cinnamon + Chocolate Maca
Amrita Energy Bars 24 Pack: Apple Cinnamon + Chocolate Maca

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent raw nutrition bars, April 2, 2015
The people at Amrita sent me a small box containing six of these bars in the hope that I would eat them and write a review. Well, I did indeed eat them (sharing some with my friends) and now I am, yes, actually writing a review. (First review in many months.) I give them a five-star rating since they are very good tasting for raw food health bars and their ingredients are as pristinely correct as any food could possibly be (at least according to a friend who has been a card-carrying Vegan for over twenty years). Consider this. The bars are:
Non GMO
Gluten free
Soy free
Peanut free
Dairy free
Kosher
70% Organic
They are “seed-based” and “allergy friendly” and “free of the 8 common allergens.”
They contain 185 to 230 calories each. The chocolate maca (dubbed a “protein bar”) is the heavyweight at 230 while the mango coconut “energy bar” comes in at 185. The other flavors are apricot strawberry, apple cinnamon, pineapple chia and cranberry raisin.
They are attractively and neatly packaged in pleasing rainbow colors. Bon appetit!
—Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”


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