Identically Different: Why We Can Change Our Genes

Identically Different: Why We Can Change Our Genes

by Tim Spector
     
 

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If you share most of the same genetic material, what makes you so different from your siblings? How much are the things you choose to do everyday—what you eat, how you vote, who you love—determined by your genes, and how much is your own free will? Using fascinating case studies of identical twins, leading geneticist Tim Spector explains how even

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Overview

If you share most of the same genetic material, what makes you so different from your siblings? How much are the things you choose to do everyday—what you eat, how you vote, who you love—determined by your genes, and how much is your own free will? Using fascinating case studies of identical twins, leading geneticist Tim Spector explains how even real-life "clones" with the same upbringing turn out in reality to be very different.

Drawing on his own cutting-edge research in genetics, Spector show us that nothing is completely hard-wired or pre-ordained. Challenging, enlightening and entertaining, Identically Different explores topics as varied as why the Dutch have become the tallest nation in the world, why autism is more heritable than breast cancer, and what could cause a healthy man to have a heart attack within weeks of his overweight, heavy smoking identical twin. Spector's probing and thoughtful study helps us to understand what makes each of us so unique.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Spector, a genetic epidemiologist, has a wealth of case studies to draw from for his research on genes and epigenetics (the mechanism by which nongenomic elements affect genes): he’s the founder and director of the TwinsUK registry, home to data on over 12,000 pairs of twins. He’s spent the past two decades studying genetically identical siblings; for 17 of those years, he ascribed to the “gene-centric” view of things. But he felt like he was “missing something.” That turned out to be the concept of “acquired inheritance,” whereby environmental, hormonal, or other external stimuli modify one’s genetic makeup. Perhaps the most interesting consequence of this is that such an altered blueprint can then be passed on to future generations. But drastic changes can occur even within one’s own lifetime. For example, a cabdriver in London is subjected to intense route training in order to navigate the city’s intricate streets; as a result, his hippocampus—a part of the brain that deals with spatial navigation—becomes enlarged. However, upon retirement, the cabbie’s hippocampus will likely shrink. Spector’s research has far-reaching implications in fields as diverse as oncology and parenting, and it provides a new perspective on the age-old nature-vs.-nurture debate—turns out they may be on the same team. Agent: Sophie Lambert and Kevin Conroy Scott, Tibor Jones & Associates (U.K.). (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Spector will get you through many dinner parties. But, much more importantly, he will show how a certain kind of scientific fundamentalism collapsed under the burden of its inability to explain the world as it is… Read him." —Sunday Times
Kirkus Reviews
Genes dictate our anatomy, emotions and behavior, except when they don't, according to this ingenious account of how inheritance and environments--including our parents' environment--vie to make an individual. Physician and TV commentator Spector (Genetic Epidemiology/King's Coll. London; Your Genes Unzipped, 2003) fills his book with entertaining anecdotes of identical twins (he is director of the world's largest twin registry) and examples from popular culture to make a convincing case that inheritance is more complicated than we think but no less fascinating. The idea that genes make us what we are ruled for half a century, until the 1960s, when a revolutionary generation insisted that our environment makes us what we are. Nowadays, scientists agree that both have an influence, but Spector cautions that DNA does not hardwire our lives. It turns out that actions can physically alter genes and that--despite what we learned in biology class--we can pass acquired traits to our children or even grandchildren. This process, epigenetics, means, for example, that a person who overeats transmits the risk of obesity for several generations. Genetics turns up in surprising places. Identical twins raised apart have remarkably similar personalities, sharing qualities such as optimism, empathy and a sense of humor (or lack thereof). Environmental factors also deliver plenty of surprises. Most readers will squirm to learn that upbringing exerts remarkably little influence on how children turn out. They are far more likely to emulate their friends than their parents, however competent and loving. Abusive parents are a different matter; crime, abusive behavior and mental illness have a disturbing tendency to run in families. A delightfully thought-provoking overview of the nature-vs.-nurture debate.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781468306606
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
08/01/2013
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,386,822
Product dimensions:
5.94(w) x 8.04(h) x 1.18(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“In this accessible contribution . . . Spector treats the view that genes are destiny with skepticism.”—The New York Times
 
“Delightfully thought-provoking . . . Spector [makes] a convincing case that inheritance is more complicated than we think, but no less fascinating.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Spector will get you through many dinner parties. But, much more importantly, he will show how a certain kind of scientific fundamentalism collapsed under the burden of its inability to explain the world as it is . . . Read him.” —Sunday Times
 
“Genetic determinism is still prevalent in our culture and Identically Different is a necessary corrective.” —Guardian

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