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Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance

Overview

Time to worry again?our lifestyle choices do impact our genetic code and that of our children (and even grandchildren!).
"The potential is staggering. . . . The age of epigenetics has arrived."?Time, January 2010
Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several ...

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Overview

Time to worry again—our lifestyle choices do impact our genetic code and that of our children (and even grandchildren!).
"The potential is staggering. . . . The age of epigenetics has arrived."—Time, January 2010
Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg—many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes.Epigenetics is the first book for general readers on this fascinating and important topic. The book is driven by stories such as the Dutch famine of World War II, José Canseco and steroids, the breeding of mules and hinnies, Tazmanian devils and contagious cancer, and more.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Epigenetics can be defined as the science of gene expression, but that simply description conceals what might be the most exciting research field of the future. In recent years, scientists have discovered that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that these biological scars can be inherited by subsequent generations. These scars don't alter a parent's DNA, but they can nevertheless inflict damage on children and, perhaps, children's children. Many researchers, in fact, believe that epigenetics might help us understand afflictions including cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Cutting-edge science adeptly explained.

Kirkus Reviews

Science writer Francis (Why Men Won't Ask for Directions, 2003) sets out to dethrone the notion that genes are the "directors" of the "plays" that are our lives, orchestrating our development and determining our risk for disease and sundry physical and behavioral traits.

Yes, genes are important, writes the author, but they are subject to regulation by forces that can turn them on or off, sometimes for a lifetime, sometimes across generations. These forces can come via the cell housing of the genes, other parts of the body or the environment, in each instance initiating the actions of chemicals that bind (or unbind) one or more parts of a gene, preventing (or activating) its transcription. This is an "epigenetic" process—epigenetics is the science that studies the ways in which DNA can undergo long-term regulatorychanges that do not involve mutations of the genes themselves. To illustrate, Francis provides a dizzying array of examples, which can be distracting. Do we really need the entire plot of The Deer Hunter to explain how each character's presumed early-life stress determines reactions to combat? The point is that stress, particularly chronic stress in utero, can reset an individual's stress barometer to ultrasensitivity, with unhealthy long-term consequences. Other early-life examples include the effects of maternal malnutrition and the bizarre consequences, including shrunken testicles, resulting from long-term anabolic steroid use. But it's not only hormones that affect gene regulation. Epigenetic processes can occur randomly and sometimes be reversed. There is also the phenomenon of imprinting, by which offspring can vary dramatically depending on whether the genes activated derive from the father or the mother. Emerging cancer studies also indicate that epigenetic events may spur progression as well as spontaneous remissions.

In his zeal, Francis provides a primer of a new science that will please some readers; others may want—and can expect—more in-depth accounts to come.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393070057
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/13/2011
  • Pages: 234
  • Sales rank: 741,459
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard C. Francis is a science journalist with a PhD in neurobiology and behavior from Stony Brook University. He is the author of Epigenetics and other books. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2012

    Not for the scientist

    As a biochemist, I was hoping this book would be a useful catch-up on a subject that has interested me for years. However, it is too diluted for my knowledge level. Francis uses very elaborate metaphors and I forget that I'm supposed to be reading about genetics. However, the non-scientist will probably find the metaphors helpful in understanding a complex subject while appreciating the added entertainment value.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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