Science fiction and fantasy
The Epigenetics Revolution
by Nessa Carey
The author explains cell differentiation, the process of cells changing into a certain type and staying that way, very accessibly. I particularly liked the vivid analogies she uses to explain all the concepts. Nessa Carey makes this topic as easy to understand as everyday life with metaphors such as balls rolling down hills, grapes stuck inside tennis balls, Lego bricks, broken zips and painting and decorating.
The effects of epigenetics are wide-ranging, and so is this book. It includes nuclear transfer experiments with toads, how cells revert to stem cells, and the importance of prenatal nutrition when it comes to lifetime development and obesity. There's a section on why mammals can't reproduce using parthenogenesis, and how germline cells get reset. Our so-called junk DNA contains lots that we don't yet understand, and that comes under the spotlight too. There's an interesting section on the possibilities for new cancer treatments, a discussion of the link between early life stress and neglect and later psychiatric problems, and a depressing explanation of the link between cancer and ageing which spells out why life extension is so very difficult.
This is a fascinating field, a real frontier that promises to open up new vistas in our knowledge of biology, and whether you're a scientist or not The Epigenetics Revolution will have you reaching for the lab coat and Petri dish in excitement. There are a few too many acronyms later in the book, but on the whole it's clearly and engagingly explained. Key concepts are reinforced with some repetition so they're easier to take in. I'm not a biologist but by the end of this book DNA methylation, pluripotent cells and histone markers had lost their power to baffle me.
I'm not sure sure why the author finishes off by speculating who should win a Nobel prize for work in this area. However she communicates an infectious optimism about this subject. The genetic code for some animals may already be mapped, but the complexity of epigenetics means we've barely scratched the surface of the cell's workings and we can look forward to new discoveries in this area for years to come.
1st May 2012
If you like this, try:The Incredible Unlikeliness Of Being by Alice Roberts
Alice Roberts looks at the amazing journey of human development and why our bodies have evolved in the way they have.
Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre
An examination of how data in clinical trials is polluted and the factors corrupting modern medicine.
Toxin: The Cunning Of Bacterial Poisons by Alistair Lax
How bacterial toxins break down our defences so effectively, and the stories of people who have struggled to understand them.
Review © Ros Jackson