The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

(New York: Scribner/Simon & Schuster, 2016), 505

  • genes (information) encode RNAs to build proteins to form/regulate organisms that sense environments that influence proteins/RNA that regulate genes (163, 178, 258, 410)
  • "Three profoundly destabilizing scientific ideas ricochet through the twentieth century, trisecting it into three unequal parts: the atom, the byte, the gene. Each is foreshadowed by and earlier century, but dazzles into full prominence in the twentieth. (9)
  • "Hereditary identities borrowed from two organisms had been shuffled around to form a new one; it was as close to metaphysics as you could get." (214)
  • Victor McKusick: "mutations are just variations" (264)

    • disabilities are caused by and incongruity between an individual's genetic endowment and his or her current environment"

  • discussion of Abortion:

    • "the division of pregnancy into trimesters was a biologically arbitrary invention" (268)

    • awful: "The 'right to be born' is being qualified by another right: to have a reasonable chance of a happy and useful life" —Joseph Dancis (269)

    • not logically coherent: "The court asserted that the right of a child to be born free of [genetic] anomalies is a fundamental right." (271)

    • but selective abortion based on genetic testing is just eugenics reborn (272)

  • "Glory be to God for dappled things." —Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins (278)
  • "the moon rocket...was just a massive jet plane pointed vertically at the moon", but his point is that conceptual shifts are more important than scale shifts in scientific understanding (293)
  • Mitochondrial Eve: the common mother of all humanity (338)
  • humans are very similar genetically but we are culturally very inclined to exaggerate differences (343)
  • genetic variation is not absolute but good or bad depending on environment, i.e. dyslexia wasn’t an issue until people started to read
  • tragic and heartbraking story of a man (Paul Gelsinger) trying to get to his dying son (Jessie): he "walked a mile and a half through the whistling storm to the hospital to see Jesse in the ICU"
  • eugenics: "We would certainly eliminate Erika's mutation from the human gene pool—but we would eliminate Erika as well..." (452)
  • unpredictability of gene expression is a good reason to tread lightly in research
  • the worst eugenic atrocity is not Nazis but selectively killing baby girls in India and China
  • “Choice, in short, seems like an illusion decided by genes to ensure the propagation of similar genes” (458)

Created: 2019-06-17
Updated: 2022-02-22-Tue