Genome BOOK review {Jerry E. Bishop/Michael Waldholz]

Book Reviews
Genome BOOK review {Jerry E. Bishop/Michael Waldholz]
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Jul 1, 1999, 05:04

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GENOME by Jerry E. Bishop and Michael Waldholz; toExcel, 1999

Lost amidst hot stories this past winter concerning election reform, California's energy woes, and that potty-mouthed bastard Eminem, was an important news item, one of many from the biotech frontier, concerning the first primate ever “manufactured” named ANDi (inserted DNA spelled backwards). Geneticists finally made a monkey, instead of just breeding a bunch to poke at and flood with experimental drugs. Genetic engineering is now the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room, and when pundits feel moved to comment on the subject, things get pretty apocalyptic. The West is creeping (racing, really) toward the mapping of the human genome, that bundle of between fifty and one hundred thousand genes that resides in the nucleus of all of our cells and contains the code of our very existence. Once mapped, scientists will have a much greater understanding of the specific roots of various hereditary diseases and, basically, what makes us the humans we are. This is it: the guidebook of our very existence. Its prospect is spooking the bejesus out of people from both sides of the political divide. God-fearing right wingers see a diminution of the divinely bestowed, mysterious life force that drives man. To be sure, it's gotta be unsettling to the average bible thumper to arrive home from church one Sunday and read the recipe for humanity in a newspaper: water, salt, specific proteins and amino acids, etc. Liberals see a tampering with their God, nature, along with various auxiliary issues such as science's rush toward cures for genetic maladies being a possible compromise of “diversity” (which is a great virtue, so long as it's not your kid with multiple sclerosis). Both camps see a sinister, Hitlerian attempt to perfect humanity (columnist George Will calls it “a slippery slope to the abolition of man”). It's eugenics! Those Frankensteins in lab coats have finally reached the brink!

Genome does not attempt to answer these questions, but rather details where all of this came from, explains where it may be heading, and, in fact, lays out for debate a whole bunch of additional questions (What happens to your insurance rates when your carrier gets a hold of your genetic profile?). It's a fascinating story, laid out in fairly idiot-proof language by two Wall Street Journal gumshoes who traced the various split ends that have woven themselves together into a truly groundbreaking development. The book reads more like a detective novel or a lengthy episode of 48 Hours than a stuffy, peer-reviewed issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and traces developments from an important coincidence at a Utah ski resort seminar to one wealthy family's quest to break the curse of a destructive and degenerative hereditary disease. Scattered memories of tenth grade biology class are helpful, but no real expertise in the hard sciences is necessary to gain a tremendous amount of insight and get up-to-speed on one of the most important issues of the day.

-Bo Pogue

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