October 20, 2016

You're far more than your genes

Herding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes workHerding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes work by Kat Arney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throw out what you thought you knew about genes, DNA, etc.

Several great things here.

First, the book explains in good detail things I've already known about how genes can code for proteins for various things, whether in combination with one, two or ten or more other genes.

Second, it explains in good detail what I've known about non-gene "control switch" areas of DNA, including how they usually act more like dimmer switches than on/off straight up/down switches.

Third, it revealed a lot I didn't know.

First, the DNA near the center of the nucleus is generally more "active." Arney talks about this, the relation to histones in positioning segments of DNA and more.

Second, coding areas on DNA evolve much more rapidly than genes themselves and are usually the primary driver of evolutionary change.

Third, epigenetics, while not all wet, probably needs more skepticism than it's gotten at times. She gives some detailed insight into this, and the exceptions to it.

Fourth, after splashing cold water on epigenetics, she brings to a boil something I wasn't aware of — micro-RNA. Apparently this has at least as much effect on inheritance as the biggest touters of epigenetics have claimed for it in the past. For example, sperm cells appear to have micro-RNA, and are NOT, therefore, just a load of DNA and that's it.

Also note that there are multiple different types of micro-RNA.

Fifth, although these discoveries aren't quite "Lamarckianism," nonetheless (and she barely touches on prions, speaking of) they put "genes" in a whole new context.

In short, the Human Genome Project and similar likely won't be in that much better position to tell us that much more about "you" and "me" twenty years from now than it is today.


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