Sharon Moalem

Why I looked at this book

The Central dogma of molecular biology says that information flows from genes to proteins and hence to the way organisms develop and behave. But then there's epigenetics, saying that information sometimes does flow the other way and what happens to us can affect our genes. The question is, does this mean a major overhaul for genetics or just a slight modification? This book seems to be arguing for the former, and I'm interested to see the arguments it presents.

First impressions

The introduction very much pushes the idea that the central dogma no longer applies. Our activities are constantly affecting our genes, so we now have to think in terms of flexible inheritance, and that changes everything. I'm not so sure that it's as drastic as that, but it's a lively start and promises to be an interesting read.

Main review

The thing about this book is that although to start with it seems to be challenging the central dogma of molecular biology, once you get past the start it seems to revert to more standard genetics. Mostly it's along the lines of the author telling how he was notified of a problem by a patient, and then had to figure out what was causing it and how to deal with it. Thus we find out about how your genome can determine what is OK for you to eat (and what might end up killing you), and how genomics is beginning to be used to determine which drugs and what dose are best to treat your illnesses. There's a chapter on genetic testing, and the problems you might have if organisations know the details of your genome and one on why a baby's sex isn't always as simple as boy or girl.

It's interesting stuff, and if you want an impression of how genomics is changing medicine then it may well be worth reading. It certainly highlights how the ability to inspect a person's genome is coming out of the lab and in to practical medicine, in particular for rare disorders that may have been hard to diagnose in the past, let alone to treat. But it doesn't really do 'what it says on the tin', that is it doesn't give much of an argument against the central dogma (OK mutation is changing your genes, but is also standard genetics). It certainly didn't persuade me that we really need to change everything we thought we knew about genetics, and if you're looking for arguments along those lines then I would look elsewhere.
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