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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 quirks—the 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 strength—indeed, 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.
Posted January 4, 2010
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