- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (November 10, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670031100
- ISBN-13: 978-0670031108
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body First Edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
In a book that's as disturbing as it is enlightening, as unsettling as it is compelling, Leroi examines all sorts of genetic variability in humans and explains how that variability helps scientists understand the processes associated with human growth and development. Leroi, recipient of a Scientist for the New Century medal from the Royal Institution of Great Britain, demonstrates, in both text and pictures, that an enormous amount can go wrong as humans develop from fertilized eggs and progress toward old age. The missteps can result from genetic or environmental causes, with the latter occasionally responsible for the former. Although the subjects Leroi presents conjoined twins, individuals with cyclopia (a single eye), deformed or missing limbs, abnormal height, supernumerary breasts, an overabundance of body hair, piebald coloring often appear grotesque, he approaches all of his topics and each of his human subjects with great respect. Leroi uses each example to demonstrate the developmental lessons they illustrate: e.g., the role of fibroblast growth factors in the formation of limbs, the pituitary's impact on body size. By explaining that each of us carries hundreds of mutations within us, he asserts that we are not all that different from those who, on first glance, appear very disparate. Similarly, he effectively dismisses the belief that human races are anything more than a convenient social construct, establishing that there is no biological basis for such categorization. While the graphic pictures might deter some, they add immeasurably to the text.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From The New England Journal of Medicine
This book is "about the making of the human body." Armand Leroi, a reader in evolutionary developmental biology at London's Imperial College, thus joins the multitude of writers who are attempting to gratify our narcissistic focus on "the body." His slant is genetic, and his approach is to employ the story of variation, hence the title and subtitle of his book. Leroi takes vignettes from famous historical cases of human "mutants" to provide interest and background for his discussions of the principles of developmental biology (what used to be called "embryology"). The nature of the subject leads him to emphasize genes and morphogenesis, certainly a fascinating area in recent years. Leroi starts his discussion with famous "monsters" in history -- some mythical, some well known, and some obscure, but all quite interesting. Famous examples include cases of conjoined twins, persons with hypertrichosis, and cyclops. The author is at his best in his lively writing regarding the historical context of these cases. He takes up examples of limb malformations, disorders of stature, and cases of intersex (more commonly known as hermaphroditism). The mysteries and medical theorizing of the past are presented in a sensitive voice and are followed by explanations of the current biologic thinking about the processes that appear to underlie these disorders. Leroi's accounts of the human lives touched by these variations are revealing of our historical biases. For example, he illuminates the curious association between ectrodactyly (the lobster-claw syndrome) and the cruel punishment of two religious dissenters in 1685 and shows how the connection reflects the pervasive belief that malformed children are born as retribution for parental transgression. These stories exhibit the wide range of human variation as well as the sometimes astonishing ways in which the affected human beings have managed to fit within their culture and society. In trying to craft scientific explanations that fit the tone and detail of the historical account, the author runs into a few problems. It is always difficult to convey complex ideas about, say, transcription factors and their role in sex determination to a readership that presumably does not have a detailed knowledge of the entire process of transcription. As the biologist Lewis Wolpert has noted, much of modern science is counterintuitive, so Leroi's task is especially daunting. He has attempted much, but it seems to me that his explanations are apt to be more mystifying than edifying to many readers. To the student of current biology, these passages will be a useful summary, but for the hypothetical "general, well-informed" reader, discussions of morphogens, cell receptors, and aromatase are likely to be underappreciated. Although Leroi simplifies and streamlines as best he can, there are some places where this approach can seem to be misleading -- for example, when he asserts early in the book that mutations are "deficiencies in particular genes." To be fair, toward the end of the book, he tries to reverse this rather flat-footed definition of mutation. Sometimes, too, the distinction between genetic causes and nongenetic developmental accidents (e.g., virus infections) is not made sufficiently clear. Read this book for the fascinating tales of human variation and the lives of those affected; the clinical genetics may also be of interest. William C. Summers, M.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.
Top Customer Reviews
For example, Carl Herman Unthan was a violin virtuoso by age twenty, although he had no arms. Of course, not all such mutants are so successful. Harry Eastlack had a defect that told his body to make bone whenever it made any repair, so that bruises and tears would turn into bone, not healed flesh. The stillborn babies here are strange indeed. One has a second developed mouth in its forehead. Another child was born with over twenty half-developed fetuses in his brain. The book, however, is far from a chamber of horrors.Read more ›
Now that the human genome project has crunched out the raw data on what our DNA code is, it has become the far more daunting task of biologists to figure out what it says and how it works. The best way to do that would be to screw up specific sites on the gene and see what happens. This is how they learn what the DNA of lower orders does, but humans aren't like fruit flies; we don't live our lives in a matter of days. Nor are we like amoeba or worms; our genetics are much more complicated and the interactions among them probably orders of magnitude greater than those for the "simpler" animals. Most important, screwing up the genetics of a human subject is not exactly, ethically or morally speaking, a good place to go! That leaves us with natural genetic failures, those individuals who have suffered genetic misprints that can lead to clues about what normal DNA does. This is what chapter one explains in some detail.
The remaining chapters illustrate what is learned from specific mutations: twinning, how and from what parts of the body arise, how things grow, how gender develops, how skin differences occurs, and why aging happens.
Since many of the mutant individuals discussed are historic figures, some of the bibliographic entries are quite old. While there are some books, most of the entries are those of modern scientific journals: American Journal of Medicine, Annals of Human Biology, Developmental Biology, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, etc.Read more ›
We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others.
I especially enjoyed the fact that I was finally able to understand the genetics of my aunt's 6th toe and the fact that Leroi uses redheads to explore the boundary between mutation and polymorphism [I'm okay with the fact that being a redhead makes me a mutant].
Despite the way Leroi handles the material, this is not a book for the squeamish. The black and white illustrations may be disturbing to some readers. I think the perfect reader for this book would be a person with the background from a 9th grade biology class and an interest in learning more about human genetics. People with an interest in history and the process of doing science should also find much of interest in Mutants.
If you want to learn something about the genetics of human development, the explanations are clear and logical, with enough analogies and examples to help you along. The reference section is vast, so you know where to turn for more gory (so to speak) details. If, however, you'd rather just sit back and enjoy the historical anecdotes, the structure of the book makes it easy for you to skim through the scientific stuff - which does not ramble on too long - and the section headings help you pick and choose your area of interest.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a wonderful book.
Very interesting information on genetics and what happens when a mutation occurs.
A very interesting read this far. This was actually assigned as a textbook for a course I took on development, so I knew what to expect. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Carl Johnson
Another yard sale book. I love this kind of stuff and couldn't get halfway though. not worth this price.Published 12 months ago by Kalika
I had to read it for a Developmental Biology class. It was pretty interesting. Heavy in genetics though. The author likes going off on tangents which makes the reading more fun. Read morePublished 13 months ago by cierra
This book addresses bizarre and rare disorders in humans, including cretinism and the disorder that the Elephant Man had. It is well written and very interesting. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Rebecca O'Grady