Nearly four decades ago Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, famously reducing humans to “survival machines” whose sole purpose was to preserve “the selfish molecules known as genes.” How these selfish genes work together to construct the organism, however, remained a mystery. Standing atop a wealth of new research, The Society of Genes now provides a vision of how genes cooperate and compete in the struggle for life.
Pioneers in the nascent field of systems biology, Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher present a compelling new framework to understand how the human genome evolved and why understanding the interactions among our genes shifts the basic paradigm of modern biology. Contrary to what Dawkins’s popular metaphor seems to imply, the genome is not made of individual genes that focus solely on their own survival. Instead, our genomes comprise a society of genes which, like human societies, is composed of members that form alliances and rivalries.
In language accessible to lay readers, The Society of Genes uncovers genetic strategies of cooperation and competition at biological scales ranging from individual cells to entire species. It captures the way the genome works in cancer cells and Neanderthals, in sexual reproduction and the origin of life, always underscoring one critical point: that only by putting the interactions among genes at center stage can we appreciate the logic of life.
Yanai and Lercher invite the reader to step back and observe how genes assemble together to make a global genetic system, or genome… [It] largely succeeds in translating the findings of an esoteric science into something that is easily understood… The Society of Genes represents a timely and welcome handbook for navigating this postgenomic era.
Using findings from the molecular revolution that only really got going in the 1980s, the authors build up a picture of networks of genes forming guilds in order to preserve their DNA dynasties… [This] lively text contain[s] a panorama of examples illustrating how genes do better by combining forces in networks.
Yanai and Lercher use the idea of a society of genes as a vantage point from which to reintroduce the entire field of evolutionary genetics… Even experienced readers are likely to encounter perspectives that are unexpected enough to make the book worth their effort… Readers meeting biology for the first time will be well served by this richer, more nuanced, way of viewing genetics, while those with a deeper background will find plenty of interest, notably in the vivid clarity of the explanations.
If you’re looking for a ‘what’s hot in genetics in 2016,’ this book wouldn’t be a bad place to start. It covers a huge number of topics—from the basics of genetics to genome editing, antimicrobial resistance and the functions of junk DNA… We need books like this.
The writing is engaging and clear, providing ample introductory material to ensure that the interested lay reader will be swept along by both the science and the evolutionary story…For the general reader, Yanai and Lercher’s discussions of cancer, immunology, sexual reproduction, and population genetics are well worth exploring.
Written by two of the smartest young thinkers in their fields, The Society of Genes is an absorbing, thought-provoking exploration of the intersection of genetics, evolutionary biology, and society.
The Society of Genes is punchy, provocative, and timely and a must-read for us all.
Well worth the interested reader’s attention.
- 296 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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