Saturday, April 23, 2011

Genome, by Matt Ridley

The genome of the title is the set of human genes, packaged in 23 pairs of chromosomes.   If you've ever taken a biology class, you might faintly recall that genes are sets of codons, and that each codon has three bases chosen out of four possible bases:  adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.   If you're like me, you're more apt to remember these as A, C, G and T.

If the previous paragraph has you yawning in boredom already, then thank me for for saving you from reading this book.   If, on the other hand, you're not so easily intimidated, then you're apt to be open to Mr Ridley's story.

The gimmick of Mr Ridley's book is to present each chromosome as a separate chapter (he shoved the X and Y chromosomes in with chromosome 7 to keep with his scheme of ordering chapters according to the size of each gene, so 22 chapters cover 23 chromosomes; I don't really know why he did this).    Then each chapter is written from the point of view of the specific chromosome (sort of).

This mostly works, and the story telling style helps keep the material interesting to non-scientists.

It is a good book, but it could have been much better:   I'd have imagined it as 22 essays, edited appropriately for a popular magazine (think Atlantic Monthly, not Maxim!), then collected into book form.   But I do feel slightly more comfortable tackling a Scientific American article on genes now than prior to reading this (but not Science which is always a challenge).

It was largely interesting and informative; thanks Jon for the suggestion.   Maybe this isn't the sort of book to read out by the pool on a warm spring day, but since that's how I read it, you'll understand my longing for better (crisper) editing.

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