10 reviews on how understanding grew...

book covers

Bonduriansky, Russell. Extended heredity: a new understanding of inheritance and evolution, by Russell Bonduriansky and Troy Day. Princeton, 2018. 288p bibl index ISBN 9780691157672, $29.95; ISBN 9781400890156 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2018

Bonduriansky (Univ. South Wales, Australia) and Day (Queen’s University, Canada) attack the difficult problem of integrating non-genetic inheritance into evolutionary biology. Initial chapters cover the historical development of genetics and evolution as gene-driven sciences, despite evidence for non-genetic inheritance. The book does a fine job of describing the biological phenomena that the authors include as “extended” hereditary mechanisms. It then integrates these mechanisms into population genetics and evolution, using George Price’s generic evolution model and Sewall Wright’s evolutionary slope metaphor as primary narrative tools. Final chapters describe how “extended hereditary” mechanisms might help us explain questions in evolutionary biology and understand the effects of human activities on the evolution of life. The book is well organized; the writing is clear and remarkably free of jargon and math. The only significant flaw is that Bonduriansky and Day define all phenomena in which cause and effect manifest in different generations as “hereditary.” Many of these phenomena are under genetic control, while others are physiological or developmental effects limited to a single generation. This overaggressive definition of “extended heredity” weakens their arguments. Despite this, Extended Heredity provides a good introduction to a rapidly expanding field. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —R. M. Denome, MCPHS University

DePamphilis, Melvin L. Genome duplication, by Melvin L. DePamphilis and Stephen D. Bell. Garland Science, 2010. 449p ISBN 0415442060 pbk, $140.00; ISBN 9780415442060 pbk, $140.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2011

Twenty years after the beginning of the Human Genome Project, what has the world learned about the way life replicates? In the tradition of Arthur Kornberg’s classic work, DNA Replication (CH, Oct’80), this new book covers all the basics and brings the story up-to-date, including applications to human diseases and connections to understanding the mechanisms of evolution. Even though their coverage is comprehensive and includes many technical details, DePamphilis (NIH) and Bell (Oxford Univ., UK) have succeeded in providing an accessible work that undergraduate students in their first molecular genetics class can easily read and understand. At the same time, this book has much to offer graduate students and researchers in the field. Many excellent tables summarize the information in each chapter. The volume also includes a glossary, clear illustrations, and chapter references. As the authors note in their preface, “… nothing is more fundamental to life than the ability to reproduce.” This book is an excellent reference for anyone who is interested in understanding the fundamentals of life. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic libraries; lower-division undergraduates and above. —C. A. Klevickis, James Madison University

Evolution of the human genome I: the genome and genes, ed. by Naruya Saitou. Springer, 2017. 305p bibl index ISBN 9784431566014, $149.00; ISBN 9784431566038 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2018

Saitou’s Evolution of the Human Genome I offers a strikingly comprehensive introduction to both the evolutionary history of the human genome and molecular and computational methods for studying it. The 15 chapters, each by a different author, span major themes and outstanding questions in human genomics, including the ratio of regulatory to coding sequence and the generation of sequence diversity through genetic recombination. The extensive list of references provided for each chapter will be useful for both undergraduate and graduate students delving into the primary literature for the first time. Many chapters provide highly informative schematics; images in chapters on the evolution of nucleotide composition and phenotypic variation at a global scale seem especially useful. The volume’s value may be lessened somewhat by occasional redundancy within chapters, comparative de-emphasis on works published since 2016, and variance among chapters in the quantitative background assumed. Overall, it will serve as useful background reading for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students venturing for the first time into this fast-moving field. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —D. P. Genereux, Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Friedberg, Errol C. Learning about your genes: a primer for non-biologists. World Scientific, 2018. 110p index ISBN 9789813272613, $46.20; ISBN 9789813272620 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2019

With the ever-expanding advances from the scientific enterprise, the need for a scientifically literate society has never been greater. Friedberg (emer., Stanford) has joined this effort by employing a casual and instructional writing style to help non-biologists understand the concept of the gene. The text’s comprehensive coverage is split across 15 chapters. Friedberg engages the casual reader by embedding technical details into a historical and sociological context. For example, chapters designed to illustrate the four-letter language of DNA (ATCG) are included alongside discussions that introduce the reader to the fairly recent publication of a complete human genome. Readers familiar with the Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction”series will find the scope of this work to be similar. Recognizing that the complex vocabulary represents a significant barrier to the non-biologist, Friedberg has made efforts to reduce the amount of technical language and has included an extensive glossary to help the reader navigate the language of genomics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates and general readers. —J. A. Hewlett, Finger Lakes Community College

Harper, Peter S. The evolution of medical genetics: a British perspective. CRC Press, 2019 (c2020). 353p bibl index ISBN 9780367356323, $138.00; ISBN 9780367178093 pbk, $55.95; ISBN 9780429340789 ebook, $54.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2021

Medical genetics was historically defined as a division of medicine that investigates the interaction between a person’s genetic makeup and their health. Practitioners of the discipline might be involved in counseling, diagnosis, evaluation, management, or treatment of people with so-called genetic conditions. New areas of medical genetics include the emerging fields of epigenetics and pharmacogenetics. This book limits its scope to the emergence and growth of medical genetics in the UK. It commences with a prehistory of medical genetics, discussing the early ideas on human heredity as proposed by John Dalton, Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, and other British intellectuals. Coverage then shifts to the discoveries in human and medical genetics that occurred during and after World War II. Several chapters thereafter describe the specific progress and development of the various medical genetics specialties. Later chapters document the major written works and discoveries that have been foundational to medical genetics. Also mentioned are related ethical issues and likely future directions of medical genetics. Appendixes include a timeline of medical genetics discoveries and an overview of major contributors to the field. Ample images and primary bibliographic references accompany each chapter. All told, this is a useful resource for any history of medicine or history of science collection. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —B. R. Shmaefsky, Lone Star College – Kingwood

Lyons, Sherrie. Evolution. Routledge, 2011. 198p ISBN 9780415592253, $90.00; ISBN 9780415592260 pbk, $19.95; ISBN 9780203808061 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2012

Since the recent 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s monumental, far-reaching On the Origin of Species (1859), many writings have expanded on evolution and related subjects. Some of these are clarifications of Darwin’s work, others synthesize his writings into more modern frameworks, and still others focus primarily on human evolution and future evolutionary forces. Lyons (SUNY Empire State College) has written a concise, well-presented primer on the evolution of the original theory of evolution. After providing a basic introduction, the author weaves subsequent scientific discoveries such as genetics and advances in DNA/RNA research into expanding modern concepts. The last two chapters, “Origins, The Expansion of Life and the Persistence of Disease” and “Humankind’s Future” (including human behavior), offer insightful and enlightened treatments of evolution on a dynamic continuum. A glossary and detailed bibliography, along with additional readings for each chapter and innovative related websites, indicate Lyons’s desire to provide comprehensive information and sources beyond this somewhat limited writing (178 pages). Excellent figures support the text. This work is part of Routledge’s “The Basics” series, a growing collection (30-plus volumes) on a wide variety of apparently collegiate-level subjects. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through graduate students. —J. N. Muzio, CUNY Kingsborough Community College

Markoš, Anton. Epigenetic processes and the evolution of life, by Anton Markoš and Jana Švorcová. CRC Press, 2019. 230p bibl index ISBN 9781138541924, $199.95; ISBN 9781351009966 ebook, $57.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2019

Markoš and Švorcová (Charles Univ., Czech Republic) offer a highly engaging exploration of phenotypic and developmental patterns across diverse biological lineages. Rejecting the view that any one information source—DNA sequence, for example—can fully shape an organism, the authors frame phenotype as the product of complex interplay among evolutionary history, genetic factors, and environment. From this perspective, species diversity is at once impressive and fundamentally constrained by ecological interactions. This strong focus on identifying patterns across biological lineages often comes at the expense of mechanistic detail, making the book readily readable for readers of diverse academic backgrounds but potentially disappointing for those with specific interests in molecular processes. Moreover, a few chapters end quite abruptly without explanation for how a particular set of findings or citations is connected to a chapter’s broader theme. Schematics throughout the book help mitigate these limitations somewhat and clarify core concepts. The volume’s extensive sets of citations will be useful for readers who wish to read more about specific biological examples. Summing Up: Recommended. Advanced undergraduates and graduate students. —D. P. Genereux, Broad Institute of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Porter, Theodore M. Genetics in the madhouse: the unknown history of human heredity. Princeton, 2018. 440p bibl index ISBN 9780691164540, $35.00; ISBN 9781400890507 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2018

The study of human heredity did not begin with the Human Genome Project and advances in genetic sequencing. Rather, this thoroughly researched and impressive tome posits that research on heredity is historically based on systematic record keeping and statistical analysis of data collected at mental institutions and asylums from as far back as the late 1700s. Porter (history, UCLA) spent more than a decade researching asylum records from Europe and North America, and numerous representative tables and forms from such institutions are reproduced in the text. The book is organized in three parts, corresponding to basic technologies of data and information collection. The first, based on materials ranging from 1789 to 1851, covers the introduction of methodical documentation and list-like table creation. The second, 1844–1907, covers the standardization of uniform data tables as tools of research and reason. The third, 1884–1939, covers the introduction of pedigree tables, surveys of local populations, and the embrace of Mendelian genetics. The book concludes with the sentiment that discussions on science, and in this case heredity, are often oversimplified; explanatory narratives making use of historical knowledge are necessary to fully grasp the complexity of genomic science. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —C. L. Iwema, University of Pittsburgh

Reich, David. Who we are and how we got here: ancient DNA and the new science of the human past. Pantheon Books, 2018. 335p index ISBN 9781101870327, $28.95; ISBN 9781101870334 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2019

Is there such a thing as a farming gene? Is it true that Indigenous agriculture grew up around the river valleys of the world? Why would South Asians and Northeast Africans adopt agriculture from the Near East and rely on expert farmers from different ecosystems and environmental complexes? How precarious is it to have all genomic research findings emanate from a single laboratory and a single institution? Is genetic research value free? These are among the innumerable questions Reich (Harvard) generates in this important contribution to genomic studies.The text is organized into three segments, with an initial focus on NeanderthalsIn the second segment, Reich examines the genetic histories of Europeans, South Asians, Native Americans, and East Asians. The third and final segment plunges into sociological discourse. Some may argue that this work is hard-core, cutting-edge science trapped within a Eurocentric paradigm and that the author casts away the mono-regional thesis of human origins and opens Pandora’s box. What is indisputable, however, is that this distinguished scientist enriches the understanding of some technical aspects of genetic research and Harvard’s role in the unfolding revolution. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. —G. Emeagwali, Central Connecticut State University

Samuelsson, Tore. The human genome in health and disease: a story of four letters. CRC Press, 2019. 283p bibl index ISBN 9780367076337, $149.95; ISBN 9780815345916 pbk, $55.95; ISBN 9780429021732 ebook, $55.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2019

Formally started in October 1990, the Human Genome Project was an effort to sequence all of the genes of a human, with the goal of better understanding human diseases and health. That same year, the first trial of gene therapy on a known gene was carried out by the National Institutes of Health to evaluate the effectiveness of medical genomics. This book introduces non-experts to the science behind genomics research and the medical applications of genomic biotechnologies. Samuelsson (Univ. of Gothenburg, Sweden) begins by using the genetic condition sickle cell anemia to describe genetic material. This is followed by a detailed discussion of the chemistry, function, and inheritance of DNA. Embedded in each chapter is information on the technologies used to investigate and manipulate genetic material. The technical coverage is accurate and contemporary, bearing in mind that the book was written for a general readership. Key technologies such bioinformatics, epigenomics, genomics, metabolomics, and proteomics are described. At the end of the book, brief coverage is given to the ethical considerations of genomics research and medical applications. Technical terms are printed in bold and defined in a straightforward glossary, and a further readings section concludes each chapter. Summing Up: Recommended. Undergraduates. —B. R. Shmaefsky, Lone Star College – Kingwood