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Science Books

May 25, 2006

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
Matt Ridley (2006)
ISBN: 0060894083

Researchers have finally completed the mapping of the human genome, but what now? Acclaimed science author Matt Ridley, who brought you the best selling Nature Via Nurture, again illuminates cutting edge science with incredible insight and style. Ridley shows how that along with the complete map of 23 pairs of chromosomes, comes a myriad of possibilities, both good and bad. While nobody can entirely predict the consequences of having our entire genome carefully catalogued, Ridley painstakingly explores the potentials by devoting a chapter to each of the pairs of chromosomes. This forensic exploration of the genome is, as the title suggests, a historical review of our species from the dawn of life to our present situation, where we stand poised on the precipice of a revolution in medical science. But as is so often the case with such breathtaking breakthroughs, there is always a potentially heavy price to pay. Medical science is now capable of detecting the single genes responsible for a host of degenerative diseases, and at what age these genes may express the disease in an individual. This seems straightforward enough, but Ridley deflates this simplistic scenario by explaining that most of the genetics that make you "you", are really multiple effects and interactions between many genes; a string of events called pleiotropy. Despite this, Ridley covers disturbing topics such as genetic screening and the highly controversial topic of genetic determinism. In this regard, Ridley engages in a no-holds-barred examination of the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding the potential abuse and misuse of genetic information. Ridley also delves into the technicalities of biochemistry, which should not put anyone off, as his clear and thoughtful explanations should be accessible to everyone. This book is bound to become a science classic - Highly Recommended.

Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish
G. Bruce Knecht (2006)
ISBN: 1594861102

Avast yer scurvy dogs! New York based writer G. Bruce Knecht, Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times, brings us this rollicking pirate adventure about the poaching of the Patagonian Toothfish (otherwise known as the Chilean Sea Bass). This fish tale is a moral story about the way our constant search for the perfect dish often has devastating effects somewhere further down the food chain, and perhaps even larger effects to the environment as a whole. The book is based on the dramatic pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel, the Viarsa, by the Australian patrol boat, Southern Supporter. This chase, said to be one of the longest in maritime history, is the result of what on the face of it seems like a trivial event. An enterprising Californian fish merchant happened to come across the Patagonian Toothfish and gave it the much more appetizing name of Chilean Sea Bass. This seemingly innocuous piece of marketing produced a huge global demand for the fish, which sent prices soaring and pirates sailing out to find this toothy treasure. Knecht manages to convey the excitement and drama of the chase just as equally as he reveals our penchant for plundering Earth's resources, no matter what the cost. Knecht even includes details of the court case after authorities finally captured and hauled the scoundrel pirates ashore. Hooked is a well-written and exciting read, with an important ecological message.

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