The Century of the Gene

Harvard University Press
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In a book that promises to change the way we think and talk about genes and genetic determinism, Evelyn Fox Keller, one of our most gifted historians and philosophers of science, provides a powerful, profound analysis of the achievements of genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, the century of the gene. Not just a chronicle of biology's progress from gene to genome in one hundred years, "The Century of the Gene" also calls our attention to the surprising ways these advances challenge the familiar picture of the gene most of us still entertain.

Keller shows us that the very successes that have stirred our imagination have also radically undermined the primacy of the gene--word and object--as the core explanatory concept of heredity and development. She argues that we need a new vocabulary that includes concepts such as robustness, fidelity, and evolvability. But more than a new vocabulary, a new awareness is absolutely crucial: that understanding the components of a system (be they individual genes, proteins, or even molecules) may tell us little about the interactions among these components.

With the Human Genome Project nearing its first and most publicized goal, biologists are coming to realize that they have reached not the end of biology but the beginning of a new era. Indeed, Keller predicts that in the new century we will witness another Cambrian era, this time in new forms of biological thought rather than in new forms of biological life.

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About the author

Evelyn Fox Keller is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at MIT. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and numerous honorary degrees.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Harvard University Press
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Published on
Jun 30, 2009
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Pages
192
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ISBN
9780674039438
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Genetics & Genomics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Books such as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene have aroused fierce controversy by arguing for the powerful influence of genes on human behavior. But are we entirely at the mercy of our chromosomes? In Are We Hardwired?, scientists William R. Clark and Michael Grunstein say the answer is both yes--and no. The power and fascination of Are We Hardwired? lie in their explanation of that deceptively simple answer. Using eye-opening examples of genetically identical twins who, though raised in different families, have had remarkably parallel lives, the authors show that indeed roughly half of human behavior can be accounted for by DNA. But the picture is quite complicated. Clark and Grunstein take us on a tour of modern genetics and behavioral science, revealing that few elements of behavior depend upon a single gene; complexes of genes, often across chromosomes, drive most of our heredity-based actions. To illustrate this point, they examine the genetic basis, and quirks, of individual behavioral traits--including aggression, sexuality, mental function, eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse. They show that genes and environment are not opposing forces; heredity shapes how we interpret our surroundings, which in turn changes the very structure of our brain. Clearly we are not simply puppets of either influence. Perhaps most interesting, the book suggests that the source of our ability to choose, to act unexpectedly, may lie in the chaos principle: the most minute differences during activation of a single neuron may lead to utterly unpredictable actions. This masterful account of the nature-nurture controversy--at once provocative and informative--answers some of our oldest questions in unexpected new ways
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: our first full picture of the basic building blocks of human life. 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? Barry Barnes and John Dupré offer an answer to that question and much more in Genomes and What to Make of Them, 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 authors 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. Barnes and Dupré then consider 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 authors 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.

Written in straightforward language but without denying the complexity of the issues, Genomes and What to Make of Them is both an up-to-date primer and a blueprint for the future.
Cultural accounts of scientific ideas and practices have increasingly come to be welcomed as a corrective to previous—and still widely held—theories of scientific knowledge and practices as universal. The editors caution, however, against the temptation to overgeneralize the work of culture, and to lapse into a kind of essentialism that flattens the range and variety of scientific work. The book refers to this tendency as culturalism. The contributors to the volume model a new path where historicized and cultural accounts of scientific practice retain their specificity and complexity without falling into the traps of culturalism. They examine, among other issues, the potential of using notions of culture to study behavior in financial markets; the ideology, organization, and practice of earthquake monitoring and prediction during China's Cultural Revolution; the history of quadratic equations in China; and how studying the "glass ceiling" and employment discrimination became accepted in the social sciences. Demonstrating the need to understand the work of culture as a fluid and dynamic process that directly both shapes and is shaped by scientific practice, Cultures without Culturalism makes an important intervention in science studies.

Contributors. Bruno Belhoste, Karine Chemla, Caroline Ehrhardt, Fa-ti Fan,Kenji Ito, Evelyn Fox Keller, Guillaume Lachenal, Donald MacKenzie, Mary S. Morgan, Nancy J. Nersessian, David Rabouin, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Claude Rosental, Koen Vermeir
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