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Customer Review

on January 2, 2004
I have to admit to a little voyeurism when it comes to the odd, and Armand Marie LeRoi's book Mutants does have a bit of a side show aspect to it. What it really intends is to show how science discovers how things work--or in this case fail to work--in human anatomy-physiology.
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. Most of these are very current, many from the late 1990s. For the interested follower of the subject, some of these might be difficult to find unless there is a university library at your disposal.
FOR THOSE WRITING PAPERS: IN SCIENCE OR IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE: The book might illustrate how scientists can approach a problem without offending the ethics of the society of which it is a part. One might also check some of the old texts to find material that would illustrate other types of genetic problems and describe how this might be of help to geneticists. One might describe the current issues regarding cloning using this book as a reference. One might write a paper that showed how the efforts of scientists and medical doctors of the past to publish new information in their times have helped scientists decades, even centuries later. IN THE ARTS, HISTORY, ANTHROPOLOGY, SOCIOLOGY: One might show how art has captured information that is pertinent to scientific work today, or discuss how the mutant individual fit into his/her particular society. (Please note that James Merrick is one of those discussed and that there are several biographies and a play based on his life.)
An interesting book on a clever approach to genetics.
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