From the gene that causes people to age prematurely to the "bitter gene" that may spawn broccoli haters, this book explores a few of the more exotic locales on the human genome, highlighting some of the tragic and bizarre ways our bodies go wrong when genes fall prey to mutation and the curious ways in which genes have evolved for our survival.
Lisa Seachrist Chiu offers here a smorgasbord of stories about rare and not so rare genetic quirksthe gene that makes some people smell like a fish, the Black Urine Gene, the Werewolf Gene, the Calico Cat Gene. We read about the Dracula Gene, a mutation in zebra fish that causes blood cells to explode on contact with light, and suites of genes that also influence behavior and physical characteristics. The Tangier Island Gene, first discovered after physicians discovered a boy with orange tonsils (scientists now realize that the child's odd condition comes from an inability to process cholesterol). And Wilson's Disease, a gene defect that fails to clear copper from the body, which can trigger schizophrenia and other neurological symptoms, and can be fatal if left untreated. On the plus side, we read about the Myostatin gene, a mutation which allows muscles to become much larger than usual and enhances strengthindeed, the mutations have produced beefier cows and at least one stronger human. And there is also the much-envied Cheeseburger Gene, which allows a lucky few to eat virtually anything they want and remain razor thin.
While fascinating us with stories of genetic peculiarities, Chiu also manages to explain much cutting-edge research in modern genetics, resulting in a book that is both informative and entertaining. It is a must read for everyone who loves popular science or is curious about the human body.
Although Chiu uses a catchy title, cute jokes and soft watercolor illustrations by her mother to disguise this book as popular science, she has produced a rigorous and detailed survey of the most recent developments in human genetics; a Genetics Primer is appended, and many readers will no doubt need it. The first chapter, on a woman who smelled so badly of fish she had to take a three-month leave of absence from work, seems at first the usual, chatty fare of much popular science writing. Within a few paragraphs, however, Chiu has launched into a complex discussion of gene mutation and enzymes. Chiu writes best in her detailed accounts of these genetic oddities, but the names Chiu and others have given the genes responsible ( The Cheeseburger Gene, The Werewolf Gene, The Calico Cat Gene ) often belie their seriousness, a problem echoed in Chiu s personal anecdotes, which seem to serve less as relevant commentary than as deliberate bids for a larger readership. Chiu s greater contribution is in her willingness to trust her audience with explanations of genetics research that are long, dense, complicated and surprisingly accessible. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.