The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance Audio CD – Unabridged, May 23, 2017
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About the Author
Donna Postel is fascinated by all kinds of stories and loves telling them. From memoir and biography to literary fiction, romance, mystery, and suspense, Donna uses her innate curiosity, talent, and decades of experience on stage and in the recording studio to bring books to life.
- Item Weight : 3.21 ounces
- ISBN-10 : 1541454030
- ISBN-13 : 978-1541454033
- Product Dimensions : 5.3 x 0.6 x 7.4 inches
- Publisher : Tantor Audio; Unabridged Edition (May 23, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,284,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The criticism of its intended audience being unclear is fair. At times, it seems to be aimed at a rather lay audience with slightly odd analogies that over simplify almost to a fault. A few pages later, jargon and technicalities are tossed around that definitely require a solid background in biology to follow with any ease. This has the discordant effect of making the simplistic analogies seem even more odd. It can’t seem to decide if it expects you to remember only basic high school biology or if it prefers you’ve had at least a couple of undergraduate level courses in molecular biology and genetics.
That being said, it was incredibly helpful in updating my understanding of this field. As a biology major in the ‘90s, this field was so nascent that it was barely addressed, let alone studied thoroughly. As a teacher of AP Bio in high school today, I needed an update on vertebrate gene regulation in order to be able to competently address the topic in my classroom. This book provided exactly that. While I won’t be teaching most of the advanced details in this book, I will be adjusting a few critical things to ensure alignment with today’s knowledge.
Even better, it reminded me why I have always found genetics so fascinating. It’s even more so now than it was 25 years ago. As so often happens in emerging fields, each intriguing answer leads to dozens more questions. If you think the way a basic prokaryotic operon works is pretty cool, learning about mammalian epigenetic gene regulation will make your brain geek out with intellectual joy.
I learned a lot from this book and want to learn more about this topic. I did find it difficult to stay engaged, partly because of Carey’s abundant use of adverbs, and partly because I’m not well versed in biology. Maybe if I had a better basic understanding before going in – it’s been a long time since I took a college biology course – it would’ve been more engaging for me. Overall a great introduction to the field.
Lacking is discourse on possible misuses of epigenetic insights and perhaps some speculations on the uses of epigenetics for steering the future of human evolution. But these are not really essential in this book, though I would love to know the views of the author.
Disturbing is a rather narrow epistemology of science. It is not true that science must avoid domains “where it is impossible to develop the testable hypotheses that are the cornerstone of all scientific enquiry” (p.235) , Leaving aside the social sciences, large parts of astronomy, evolutionary psychology and also the science of evolution are far from fully satisfying this requirement. Abduction, as proposed by Charles Sanders Peirce in his work on the logic of science and expanded later, is ignored. The proposed mechanistic models ignore quantum mechanics. And, to conclude this list of disturbing statements, I wonder how the author would elaborate her statement “A phenomenon can have a mechanistic basis, without being deterministic” (p. 235) at a workshop on free will attended by philosophers of the mind and brain scientists.
The main part of the book on epigenetics deserves five stars and is strongly recommended. I choose to ignore superfluous statements irrelevant for the core contents and suggest that readers do so too.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
I felt there was too great an emphasis on epigenetic causes of human diseases, about which fairly little is known (except for a few rare but well-explored cases). Therefore, I only skimmed the last few chapters.
I read this book and also took a Coursera online course in epigenetics, but I still have no clear idea about the relationship between genetics and epigenetics as applied to inheritance patterns. I cannot imagine how to add epigenetic dynamics to the biological models I work with, or if they make any difference at all to population biology.
Read it as an informal textbook to an academic class in Epigenetics. Probably got 33% of all the learning from the book and 67% from the class, and I have a suspicion the the basic lessons of the book will stick more than the forest of class details about what protein acetylates what unit of the histone.
Would possibly be nice to expose a little more of the molecular detail, without frightening horses and small children.
Top reviews from other countries
Again, later in the book, it is suggested that the permanence of methylation makes it the ideal candidate as the cause of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Only after this idea has been developed in detail is it stated that memory may also be epigenetically determined. Memory, of course, is a far bigger subject than PTSD, and a very complicated one in which the growth of both new connections and new synapses (and possibly glial cells) has long been recognised as a perfectly good explanation of how neurons build and strengthen association. These processes may indeed be under control of epigenetics, but epigenetics isn't necessary for an explanation - again transcription factor cascades, or just the fact that synapses remain once they have been induced to form by neural firing are sufficient. PTSD undoubtedly arises out of memory; and especially emotional memory which appears to get separated from other memories, but memory is a much more complex process than can just be put down to epigenetics. I'm not saying that epigenetics isn't important - I think it's hugely important; just that Carey tends to jump to conclusions in a less than thorough way.
There is much mention of 'mental illness' in the book, again with methylation implicated especially in the 'diseases' of PTSD and 'depression'. While the author does a great, and much needed job of explaining how paradigm shifts can take a long time in science because of inertia in the system which resists the overthrow of established ideas, she is clearly unaware of the paradigm shift that has long been underway in the field of so called 'mental illness', especially in the UK, where DSM (the Diagnostic Statistical Manual) has long been viewed with disdain by many psychiatrists, clinical psychogist, and therapists. I suspect that the author's involvement in the pharmaceuticals field has blinded her to this. Many experts, such as Professor Richard Bental ('Doctoring the Minds' and 'Madness Explained') regard depression and even schizophrenia as understandable consequences of pressure from society and family (see also R D Laing's 'Politics of the Family' etc and Bateson's double bind hypothesis). Carey's search for a simple 'cause', though valid to some degree, is much too crude, and ignores so many complex factors. Her quoting of identical twin studies (too often glibly trotted out in general) needs to be questioned. Even twins who grow up together don't share the same experiences - one might have been traumatised, chastised, or otherwise changed in a fleeting moment while the other was absent - this is what creates differing personalities, and it does so through memory, the functioning of the mind, and even psychosomatic effects. All of these are down to neural networks, and we don't understand the functioning of neural networks yet, even at a quite basic level. It's jumping to conclusions to think that epigenetics is suddenly the key to 'mental illness'. An interesting fact about PTSD which caught my attention years ago, is that the commonly prescribed beta-blocker, propranolol, has been found to prevent PTSD if given to soldiers prior to battle. It is also said to 'kill conscience', and there is considerable evidence from research that emotional memories are erased and then put back when we remember events, and that re-living traumatic events while taking propranolol can block that 'putting back'. This poses serious questions for the role of methylation - how is the methylation in neurons involved in emotional memories undone every time we remember something; and if memories are constantly erased and put back, even those causing PTSD, doesn't that rather conflict with the argument that the permanence of methylation is the key? And does propranolol in fact affect methylation or some process around it (a topic for research)?
As I said, I'm not the average reader, having been passionately involved in these subjects for thirty or more years, and I know just how mind-bogglingly complicated they are becoming. All the more credit to Nessa Carey for tackling them in a book now, because studying papers is exhausting and takes time, even when you have access to them, and we need books that try to summarise, and access to other's ideas, if what E O Wilson calls 'consilience' across science disciplines is to be achieved. A great book, and I look forward to reading the next one on 'Junk' DNA when it comes out.
And yet – Identical (Zygotic) Twins, over their life-cycle, can turn out different in many ways. Why?
Our cell life is a lot more complex than just the template of our D.N.A; there are other factors playing on the top of this genetic code, switching certain options “off” and “on”. Welcome to the world Epigenetics.
As someone who had heard of this term being banded around in science articles and TV shows, I wanted to learn a little bit more – after all, when I did Biology at School (in the mid 1990’s) this stuff certainly wasn’t mentioned on the public radar.
Nessa Carey has written an excellent book helping “numpties” like myself grasp hold of this new and exiting field in biology. It’s not a book that is shy of using biological terminology, and it involved me grappling with imagery that I had never even imagined before; but that’s the exciting thing about science! As well as providing you with the knowledge of why your male tortoiseshell cat will be infertile, this book will give you a greater appreciation of the complexity of life at a cellular level.
Also consider this: A caterpillar that becomes a butterfly has exactly the same DNA - so why do they look so different?
The answer is 'epigenetics'. Whenever two genetically identical individuals are non-identical in some way we can measure, this is called epigenetics. This also includes an individual at different point in their life. For example why does horrendous abuse as a child often lead to problems later in life - is it psychological or is it embedded in the very genes of the person?
In the following sentence, before I read this book, I mostly understood the word 'within'.
"Histone Acetylation and DNA methylation within a CpG motif in the promoter region mediates gene expression ...."
By half way through this book I understood what this meant.
The author never hides the gritty details from the reader unlike many patronising popular science books that shy away from the scientific detail in case the reader finds it too difficult. She takes you step by step through the main details of epigenetics and the technical language used. It is not difficult, but you do have to take it slowly to digest the information.
To make the subject a bit lighter, the book is dotted with dry humour and pithy literary quotes.
Epigenetics is such a new field that many of the key players are still alive and working away in their laboratories and earning Nobel prizes along the way. She introduces you to some of the leading scientists and the contributions they are making. For example Professor Sir John Gurdon worked for ten years to explain why most cells remain forever of the same type through permanent gene inactivation, it explains why liver cells never become brain cells. Professor Yamanaka is one of the youngest luminaries in the stem cell and pluripotency field. He and his team has managed to convert adult cells back into pluripotent stem cells, thus offsetting the sensitive issue of using embryonic stem cells.
The latter half of the book covers the application of epigenetics. It starts with cancer and all its complexities and why we are unlikely to hear "Boffin finds cure for cancer" as there are many, many routes to cancer.
Then she moves on to mental illness such as schizophrenia and the role this new science may play along with the possible link between memory and genetics.
In one chapter the issue of ageing is discussed and its genetic underpinnings and are we likely to find drugs to help us live longer?
Finally, the topic of plant genetics is covered and she explains how a bee, a human and a tulip share very similar molecular mechanisms but they use them in a different way.
Throughout the book there are references to source material and these are found in the back of the book if you want to learn more (which I do).
Epigenetics is only just getting started and the author refers to conferences that occurred even as late as 2011. This is leading edge science.
It is a fascinating book. Yes, it is a technically demanding book. But if you are keen to get a deeper understanding of the future of genetics then I highly recommend it.