Monday, May 12, 2014

Essentials of Genetics by Klug & Cummings

The third edition is classic. I found Essentials of Genetics (3rd Edition) on my book shelf. This edition was published in 1999 on the eve of the successes of the Human Genome Project (HGP). The HGP project and Celera Corporation have significantly changed our study and understanding of genetics. I imagine the current editions of this textbook are much changed.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the men and women (and there were many women in this field) who studied genetics were part mathematicians and part diligent investigators. Indeed, much of the opening chapters of the 3rd edition read like a math text with discussions of probability, combinatorics, logic, and problem solving. Experiments had to be cleverly designed
so that the genotypes [DNA] of all gametes can be determined accurately by observing the phenotypes [observable characteristics] of the result offspring. This is necessary because the gametes and their genotypes can never be observed directly.
This was the fact of life that made these heroic genetic scientists a close knit group. Every chapter references the many scientists who made slow progress observing generations of bacteria, and famous model organisms such as c elegans (worms) and d melanogaster (flies), which were bred to support slow scientific before genotypes could be observed directly.

While the text is packed with excellent science, one 20th century mythology is also well represented. Before the HGP, it was imagined that homo sapiens sapiens (that is you and I) were somehow special and must therefore had to have many more genes than other living things. The chauvinistic consensus was in the neighborhood of 50,000 to 100,000. The HGP has settled on under 25,000, with the higher numbers belonging to plants like grapes and corn.

As I read through the clever and tedious research required to take us from Mendel to HGP, I wonder where the epic novel of trial and discovery is. A 21st century Michener or Uris should tackle this project.

This edition is out of print, but later editions are available.

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