The Human Genome Project: Cracking the Genetic Code of Life
Thomas F. Lee
“This is the chemistry of life itself, a maelstrom of swirling molecules, seemingly random but upon close examination extraordinarily ordered -- a self-regulating dynamic chemical sea.” (p. 5)
Most of the first half of scientific nonfiction book The Human Genome Project: Cracking the Genetic Code of Life chronicles the history of genetics and the discoveries that were necessary to make such a monumental project possible. This book covers the scope of the beginnings of the study of heredity with Gregor Mendel’s famed experiments on garden peas, to the groundbreaking discovery of the actual structure of DNA by Watson, Crick, and the lesser known, Franklin. This book also details some of the more recent accomplishments in genetic engineering, such as the formation of chimeras from the DNA of a number of different organisms. There is even a chapter dedicated to the complicated process of cloning DNA. These are ideas that have speculated on in a lot of pop-culture science fiction works such as the movie Blade Runner or the book Double Helix.
The way that Lee slowly takes the reader step by step and details each new discovery in the field of genetics helps even the most uninformed readers understand, at the very least, the basics of how DNA functions and how it is used in modern society. This book shows how with each new genetic accomplishment, there are a myriad of possibilities for how this new knowledge can be applied.
The first chapter helps to detail the focus of the book and asks the reader probing social and ethical questions such as: ‘What are “good” genes and “bad” genes, and who will decide?’ or "What are the dangers inherent in manipulating genes in the laborotory or introducing them into humans." (p. 18-19) Much of the general public goes through life not realizing the impact that their microscopic genes can have on their life. The book mentions the possibility of future genetic screenings for employment or insurance coverage. Genetics advances have made it possible for people to choose what genes their children will posses. This book made me realize that genes affect my life every day because DNA is responsible for organizing the proteins that are the basic building blocks of every living organism. I think my chosen quote reflects this fact that the seemingly random substance of DNA is a very organized system that is essential to make up life itself.My overall opinion of the first half is that some of the information is repetitive for someone who already had to learn it in biology class. There were also portions of the book that contained a lot of technical terms that made some sections very confusing. It is hard to find a page that does not contain any acronyms. For example, there is a passage that describes the complicated process of cloning. "Next, by adding DNA polymerase the primer would be extended by the addition of one ddNTP and no more nucleotides could be added. Gel electrophoresis could be used to analyze the contents of each tube to see which had added a radioactive ddNTP. If it was one containing A, then it had attached to a T on the DNA strand, if it contained G, then it had attached to a C, and so on." (p. 144) Even so, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about genetics because it is a very good summary of all the information on genetics. As someone who is very interested in going into the field of biology, I thought this book provided me with a lot of information that will be important for me to know in the future. I now know a lot about how heredity works and how scientists are able to located specific genes on a chromosome.