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The Impact of the Gene: From Mendel's Peas to Designer Babies Paperback – May 30, 2002
From Publishers Weekly
Just as A.N. Whitehead famously argued that "all moral philosophy is footnotes to Plato," Tudge (The Second Creation), a research fellow at the Centre for Philosophy at the London School of Economics, argues that "all genetics is footnotes to Mendel," taking us from the 19th-century Moravian friar's monastery garden to headline makers like the Human Genome Project and Dolly, the instant sheep. The comparison is doubly appropriate given how heavily the moral question hangs on Tudge's narratives as he endeavors to put the public's fears about cloning and other issues to rest. His discussions of evolutionary psychology the study of the genetic roots of human behavior, which today bears the taint of Herbert Spencer's social Darwinism and of eugenics are careful and reasonable, as is his handling of the controversial idea of "designer babies." Tudge invokes the concept of noblesse oblige, arguing that moral responsibility grows in direct proportion to power over life. Throughout, his attitude is "cautious optimism." Tudge has great facility as a popularizer, here breezily showing how Von Neumann's game theory was the only kind of math that could come to the aid of Darwinism, there speculating about the relative stability of the gene pool as a whole: "people who cannot outsmart New York lawyers do not fade into oblivion." While perhaps a little too credulous of the evolutionary psychology gospel for some readers, and not alarmist enough for others, Tudge's account will draw in and satisfy the curious neophyte, if not the embroiled activist or random browser.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Noted science writer Tudge (The Variety of Life, an LJ Best Book) writes a particularly interesting narrative on the development of genetics from Gregor Mendel's 19th-century pea experiments to the present. He devotes the first third of his book to Mendel and the foundations of genetics; the rest of the text covers all further scientific and technological developments in the field and their social context. One of the book's greatest strengths is that Tudge manages to weave the contributions of hundreds of scientists into a story that is coherent, logical, and readable. He also tackles the social implications of genetics (e.g., "designer babies") and offers thoughtful and persuasive discussions of difficult topics such as evolutionary psychology. Tudge's study is accessible to the educated lay reader, while the detailed historical account will appeal to academics. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Marianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Arizona
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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After a defence of Mendel and his contribution to biology, Tudge reviews what genes are and how they function. This in-depth overview is one of the best summations of genetic processes in print. This chapter alone is worth purchasing the book. Tudge traces the roles of DNA, RNA, the amino acids and proteins. He shows how even minuscule changes in any step in the sequence can lead to ineffective proteins. Such changes can be implemented in the development of the organism [or merely part of it] rendering it unfit to survive in its existing environment. Such change can also make the individual more fit if that environment is undergoing change. He reviews the history of discoveries concerning chromosomes, DNA [first called nuclein], enzymes and proteins. He reminds us that many of these finds were made while Mendel's work had sunk from sight. Tudge's list of the researchers involved and the dates of their discoveries is revealing for those not well-grounded in the history of biology. He shows how the many threads were brought together many years later.
Tudge addresses how the genetic ratios imply regular laws of inheritance. Tudge stresses the revolutionary aspect of this discovery and how it changed science's view of life. He notes how Mendelian genetics seemed to refute Darwin for some years. When these apparent discrepancies were later reconciled and molecular genetics arose as the science binding the two theories, limitless opportunities arose. Revelation of the DNA structure showed how genes could be identified and later used to understand their relation to the whole organism.
Tudge follows through with what has been achieved in genetic research and speculates on what the future might hold. He pulls no punches in his speculations and readers will be confronted with myriad possibilities. These shouldn't be discounted nor blithely cast aside as distasteful. His proposals are realistic and based on strong science.
This book should stand as Tudge's finest effort. He's written many books on science, with some focus on human evolution. Standing as a pinnacle among his publications, readers are urged to take up this volume intending to give it a careful read. His Epilogue carefully reviews the many ethical questions that arise from the new power that genetics has placed in our hands. He reminds us of the pitfalls that have been encountered in the past and to prepare for these in decision-making. Public policies, which ultimately rest in your hands, he reminds us, must be formulated on a basis of clear understanding of what is involved.
This book provides an excellent starting point for building that knowledge base. He warns us against letting events overtake us. Read him to stay abreast of what is transpiring.
This is probably not the best way to take one's first step into genetics, as far as the biological and technical nuts and bolts of the subject are concerned. Yet, if I were a professor, I'd make this a required reading to all students of genetics in order for them to be further introduced to the historical and ethical sides of the matter...
Starting with Mendel's biography and scientific breakthroughs, Tudge offers a guided tour through the early, pioneering days of modern biology, explains the very basics of Mendelian and molecular genetics, then swiftly moves on to discuss several important aspects, consequences and moral and practical responsibilities derived from our present advanced and advancing knowledge of biological heredity.
I think readers with no firm foundation of genetics and evolutionary theory wouldn't grasp the basics so easily from the quick overview by the author, agile and clear though it is. Any other biology textbook will obviously fill such a bill much better...
But the book's absolute forte lies both in the introductory historical perspective and in the following essays on wildlife conservation, evolutionary psychology, genetic bio-engineering and philosophy of science (better still, philosophy after the science!).
Tudge has drawn his own conclusions, and one may or may not agree with him in some respects, especially in his last chapter... But he treats many issues in a clear, informed and scientifically sensible way, and those are exactly the issues all too often hyped up or simplistically downplayed by the media and by columnists who babble on and on, all too often unaware of what exactly they're talking about, and thus unable to convey any meaningful insights to their audiences but doubts, diffidence or, even worse, passive indifference before something apparently, but mistakenly, beyond their grasp.
The principles that lie at the basis of some modern or future biotechnologies are very much understandable instead, and should belong to everyone who wants to form an educated opinion about what's going on...
A book for the novice to learn a little bit more, and for everyone to ponder. Even the ones who think they already know better...