- Biocode The New Age of Genomics
- Neil Davies
- WeGotTickets | Simple, honest ticketing | Dawn Field: Biocode The New Age of Genomics
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Biocode The New Age of Genomics
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WeGotTickets | Simple, honest ticketing | Dawn Field: Biocode The New Age of Genomics
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Rowling, there was Eva Ibbotson' - The Telegraph. The Newcastle writer died in and from this beloved author came this one last charming novel. When a gentle family of yetis is Every painter discards botched studies, but a few months later the rejected image may seem not quite so bad after all. Although genomics may have started with medical questions, the techniques are so powerful that they give access to the unseen microbial world, and make it feasible to sample communities of larger organisms with remarkable speed and precision.
The book ends on a grand scale, contemplating what implications these insights have for our understanding of, and stewardship for, the planetary ecology. Much of the book is built around vignettes that illustrate the principles being discussed rather than by direct exposition. This use of vignettes and anecdotes helps maintain interest and keeps the tone light, which is no small feat given the grand scope of the book and its brevity. A grand scope in a short space necessarily leads to omissions, but given the challenge of covering such a broad and active field, I was impressed with the accuracy of the book.
There were, of course, some minor technical glitches and awkward analogies, but by and large Biocode gets its facts right. What is particularly nice about this essay is that it brings together in two and a half pages of text a cogent argument for the importance of conservation and fundamental research, because pandas, as charismatic as they may be, are generally not considered to be economically important animals.
Who would have thought that their genomes might give insights into the energy economy? I doubt that pandas will provide the path to efficient biofuels and a clean energy future, but the realization that an understanding of their genomes can help is a powerful illustration of the importance of the diversity of life and the value of understanding it in all its complexity.
The compactness of the book also helps bring some important ideas forward in a way that would not occur with a lengthier text.
This is true for the book as a whole, which squeezes the science behind the sequencing of the human genome together with efforts to genetically barcode all of life in a compact text. Each of these topics could easily justify a book in its own right, but putting them together helps illustrate the ways in which they interact and reinforce each other. Naturally much of the detail had to be omitted, but there are copious endnotes, and an interested reader can easily follow any of these threads into a deeper literature. I also appreciated the delicacy with which the authors handled some of the pillow-fights within the genomics community.
The ENCODE project is an international effort to identify and catalog all of the functional elements within the human genome, integrating information from many datatypes into a single database. This is a difficult undertaking, and there have been critiques of the project, some well justified, others not.
Sadly, some of the discussion has descended to the level of ad hominem attack. It must have been tempting to delve into a scientific soap opera, and the fact that the authors of Biocode were disciplined enough to stay focused on the matter at hand and neglect some of the tawdry details was much appreciated by this reader. This reflects the generally hopeful tone of the book, which faces our current global environmental crisis head-on, but does so without hand-wringing. Instead it documents the severity of the situation, and then shows how genomic technology, applied wisely, can facilitate stewardship.
DNA was first discovered as a cellular component in the s, and by the s it had been established that it is the primary genetic material of the cell and its structure described. It is truly remarkable that it is now possible to think in terms of sampling genomes on a planetary scale, and Biocode makes a compelling case for the power and promise of such an undertaking.
It may be a slim volume, but it points at great things.