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Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development Hardcover – June 1, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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About the Author

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is a German biologist. She won the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel Prize in Physiology for her research on the genetic control of embryonic development. She lives in Bebenhausen, Germany.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Kales Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0967007674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0967007670
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Edward F. Strasser on July 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I think that very few people ever wonder how an egg grows to be an adult. People don't generally think about what tells one cell it's going to be part of a head and another cell that it's going to be part of a foot. Most of us have seen pictures of early fetuses, but how many wonder why the chick looks so much like the pig? For those who do wonder, this book is a very good place to start. (My 5-star rating is my estimate of the book's value to beginners.)

The topic is not the development of organisms in general, but of animals -- and only those animals (including us humans and most of the others that are important to us), who are called bilaterians because our bodies have left-right symmetry. We also have distinct anterior and posterior ends, with a mouth at one end and an anus at the other; and we have ventral and dorsal sides (front and back in us humans). In the very beginning of development, chemicals are produced in the right places to say, in effect, "This will be front.", "This will be rear.", and so on. All these chemicals do is to switch on genes that will begin to give shape to the embryo. This is the beginning of a process that goes from a single cell to a very rough shape through stepwise refinements to the final mature animal. This systematic development is what makes the subject interesting and accessible to us non-scientists.

Nusslein-Volhard tells the story at a rather elementary level. She covers only a few of the many developmental genes - so that the reader doesn't have to memorize a lot of names - and she says little about molecular mechanisms. She also focuses on the formation of the embryo, with some discussion of the larval and fetal stages and little about adults.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In 1923, Hans Spemann conceived an experiment that became famous. He transplanted cells from an early newt egg to an inappropriate spot in another newt egg. After the transplant, a second head and trunk section grew instead of stomach. Since the donor cells were a different color, it was easy to tell that the new head and neck did not form from the donor cells. Instead, the donor cells influenced the development of its native neighboring cells.

Embryology is all about morphogens - chemicals secreted by organizer cells that influence genes in other cells by their concentration gradient. This is where our author has spent her life, becoming only the 11th woman in history to win a Nobel prize in science. She is among the key players who have brought embryology to the center stage of current research in biology.

There have been major advancements in our understanding of evolution over the past twenty years. For example: Scientists expected a lot more human genes than 25,000 - that's not too many more than are in a worm. Embryologists began to study evo-devo - how the embryo changed into an adult. Genetic researchers (like Nusslein-Volhard) discovered "core genes" such as the Hox genes that direct body segmentation and the tinman genes that create hearts. Adjacent to the coding genes, "gene switches" were found in the junk DNA. These switches respond to the morphogens, rearranging the effects of the core genes, encouraging dramatic evolutionary change. It came as a surprise that virtually the same core (modular?) genes were found in diverse species - from fungi to humans.

Most successful (nonlethal) mutations were found among the gene switches.
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Format: Hardcover
This book could be used by a motivated individual who wanted an introduction to the basics of developmental biology. However, it is not destined to be a popular science classic. Nusslein-Volhard is an excellent scientist, and does an adequate job of putting the science down on paper in an orderly and simplified manner, but she does not have the writing skill to keep the reader's interest. So, bring your own motivation, or forget it. There is no narrative skill in telling a story, or solving a puzzle, or building interest, it's just one pile of facts after another. "Here's a simplified description of fly embryo development. Now here's a simplified description of chicken development."

The book contains:

a brief historical review of important developments in the history of biology

an account of how complex segmentation of an embryo could be accomplished from simple morphogenic gradients (probably the best part)

a brief review of development in various model organisms (fly, chicken, mouse)

an attempt to relate this to human development

discussion of current ethical issues
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Format: Hardcover
Coming To Life: How Genes Drive Development by Nobel Laureate Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard is the study (in remarkable detail) of developmental biology. Offering a ground breaking analysis of the microscopic progression of fertilization and embryonic research, Coming To Life features collective observations and studies providing readers with a coherent explanation for the complex formation of life forms arising from the minute simplicity of egg cells, as well as other fascinating discoveries detailing the scientific conclusions surrounding the phenomena of life and its development. Coming To Life is very highly recommended for all students of biology for its knowledgeable and "reader friendly" presentation of the intricate concept of life-formation.
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