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A response to danielx
on November 9, 2013
I posted this review some months ago but it appears only as a comment to the review by danielx. I am re-posting it here simply to increase its visibility.
I am John Quackenbush, the author of The Human Genome: Book of Essential Knowledge. I typically don't respond to reviews, but I feel that this critical, unflattering, and somewhat misleading review warrants a reply.
First, as is true of all books, there are some errors that were missed as the book was prepared for publication. For example, as you point out, mammals did not arise 510 million years ago, but during the Late Triassic Period, approximately 210 million years ago. This was an unfortunate typographical error and I appreciate having it pointed out. Similarly, the review is correct in noting that sperm do contain mitochondria and, indeed, the text should have read, "Male sperm cells do not contain large numbers of mitochondria and these are destroyed within minutes of fertilization." And both of these will be corrected (as a few other minor errors I've found) should a second edition of this book be produced.
However, I must disagree with most of the other points raised here. While Rhode, Olsen, and Chang published a 2004 paper presenting mathematical models and computer simulations indicating humans shared a most recent common ancestor only a few thousand years ago, this idea is not widely accepted and not supported by experimental evidence. A little thought about the history of human migration and worldwide diversity underscores why such a recent common ancestor is so unlikely.
The example of sex-linked inheritance detailed in the book, describing the disappearance of surnames (inherited through the paternal line), is a well-established model. Indeed, the 48 inhabitants ([...]l) represent four main families: Christian, Young, Brown, and Warren. The first three are surnames belonging to descendants of Bounty crew members and the last belongs to descendants of an American who settled on the island not long after the original settlers.
Regarding Darwin and the Galapagos finches, they did play an important role in the development of Darwin's thoughts on evolution. Following the return of the Beagle to England, Darwin presented the finches, along with other mammal and bird species he collected, to the Geological Society of London on January 4, 1837. He gave the bird specimens to John Gould, a famous ornithologist, who, at the subsequent meeting of the Geological Society, reported that there were more finch species than Darwin had thought. In fact, birds Darwin had originally classified as blackbirds, "gross-beaks" and finches were in fact "a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar [as to form] an entirely new group, containing 12 species." This classification, together with information about the location of each species, helped Darwin establish his evolutionary theory.
As for parsimony, it can well be defined as "the assumption that nature makes as few changes as possible as new species evolve from old ones." This is not an empirical statement about the processes that operate in nature and it is never presented as one in the book. Rather, the highlighted sentence implies, it is a principle applied to the analysis of evolutionary data.
Finally, regarding my background. Although I did indeed study physics, I have worked in biology and genomics since 1992 when I received a Special Emphasis Research Career Award from the National Institutes of Health to work on the Human Genome Project. Since that time, I have published more than 220 peer-reviewed scientific papers in top journals and am recognized nationally and internationally for my work.
I am proud of this book and believe it presents a compelling history of the human genome project, a description of its importance, and a view of where it may lead us. As the cost of sequencing a genome is now only a few thousand dollars, genome sequencing is rapidly entering into the practice of medicine and has become an essential research tool. I believe the information in this book will be increasingly important not only to its readers, to all of us.