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The human genome

A beginner's guide to the chemical code of life

I ordered this publication via the Internet and when it arrived this tiny book's size was, at first, a disappointment. It's only after reading it that you begin to appreciate the author's skill in summarising the science and issues that surround what is arguably one of humankind's greatest scientific achievements. Now, I cannot praise this excellent little book too highly.

There are three colour-coded sections: 'Before the genome'; 'Reading the genes'; and 'Pitfalls and promises'. There's also a glossary, an index and a few suggestions for further reading (including some Web sites such as www.yourgenome.org - the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's site for teachers and students).

'Before the genome' includes a concise if predictable historical account of evolution, inheritance, the structure of DNA and the assembly of proteins. This is the longest section in the booklet - 24 pages in all. Some sections deserve a slightly longer treatment (the genetic code is omitted, for example). This could easily have been accommodated by axing the oft-repeated myth of Bateson's transformation to Mendelism on the train from Cambridge to London (a story that was apparently put about by his widow [1]) and more than half a page devoted to speculation about the authenticity of Mendel's research. There's a slight glitch (every reviewer has to find one). Cherfas refers to the 'fatal disease pneumococcus' - no doubt that typo will be corrected in the next edition.

The most up-to-date section of the booklet comes next; it's also the section that will date most rapidly. 'Reading the genes' describes the key technologies behind mapping and sequencing genomes as well as giving a quick-fire account of the race between the public and private teams attempting to sequence the human genome. The surprise of the decade must have been that the human genome consists of only 32 000 genes, and that consequently each human gene must encode, on average, 3 proteins. How many more genomes will have been sequenced before post-translational modification finds its way into school textbooks?

A welcome feature is the final section which raises several issues that the genome project and associated developments increasingly give rise to. No answers are presented, but the questions asked should stimulate further discussion.

As we've come to expect from Dorling Kindersley publications, this booklet is highly-illustrated and well-designed. DK's trademark photos on a white background have been replaced by simple full-colour drawings and diagrams. Good use is made of pull quotes, boxes and side panels, which contain useful and thought-provoking information rather than the banal 'Did you know?' facts that are so popular in elementary texts. The illustrator has done an admirable job of explaining dynamic processes such as genome mapping and the PCR with diagrams although here, as usual, a few errors have crept in. Two I spotted were DNA heading the wrong way on a gel and primers annealing to target strands at 37 °C (OK, it does happen, but higher temperatures are more common).

In summary, this is a great book; it fits in the pocket, doesn't cost a packet and the tough laminated cover, robust pages and built-in bookmark flaps will withstand several train journeys to and from Cambridge.

Dean Madden
National Centre for Biotechnology Education
The University of Reading Whiteknights
PO Box 226
Reading RG6 6AP
The United Kingdom

1. Olby, R.C. (2000) Horticulture: the font for the baptism of genetics. Nature Reviews Genetics. 1 (1) 65-70.

Sidansvarig: Sven Toresson|Sidan uppdaterades: 2016-07-13

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