Genomes and What to Make of Them

Genomes and What to Make of Them

Barry Barnes and John Dupre

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226172958

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

The announcement in 2003 that the Human Genome Project had completed its map of the entire human genome was heralded as a stunning scientific breakthrough. Since then, boasts about the benefits—and warnings of the dangers—of genomics have remained front-page news, with everyone agreeing that genomics has the potential to radically alter life as we know it. For the nonscientist, the claims and counterclaims are dizzying—what does it really mean to understand the genome? This book offers an answer to that question and much more with a clear and lively account of the genomic revolution and its promise. The book opens with a brief history of the science of genetics and genomics, from Mendel to Watson and Crick and all the way up to Craig Venter; from there the chapters delve into the use of genomics in determining evolutionary paths—and what it can tell us, for example, about how far we really have come from our ape ancestors. It then considers both the power and risks of genetics, from the economic potential of plant genomes to overblown claims that certain human genes can be directly tied to such traits as intelligence or homosexuality. Ultimately, the chapters in this book argue, we are now living with a new knowledge as powerful in its way as nuclear physics, and the stark choices that face us—between biological warfare and gene therapy, a new eugenics or a new agricultural revolution—will demand the full engagement of both scientists and citizens.