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The Language of Genetics

An Introduction

Denis R. Alexander

The Language of Genetics: An Introduction is the seventh title published in the Templeton Science and Religion Series, in which scientists from a wide range of fields distill their experience and knowledge into brief tours of their respective specialties. In this volume, Dr. Denis R. Alexander offers readers a basic toolkit of information, explanations, and ideas that can help us grasp something of the fascination and the challenge of the language of genetics.

Alexander surveys the big picture, covering such topics as the birth of the field; DNA: what it is, how it works, and how it was discovered; our genetic history; the role of genes in diseases, epigenetics, and genetic engineering. The book assumes the reader has little scientific background, least of all in genetics, and approaches these issues in a very accessible way, free of specialized or overly technical jargon. In the last chapter, Dr. Alexander explores some of the big questions raised by genetics: what are its implications for notions of human value and uniqueness? Is evolution consistent with religious belief? If we believe in a God of love, then how come the evolutionary process, utterly dependent upon the language of genetics, is so wasteful and involves so much pain and suffering? How far should we go in manipulating the human genome? Does genetics subvert the idea that life has some ultimate meaning and purpose?

Genetics is a rapidly advancing field; it seems new discoveries make headlines every other week. The Language of Genetics is intended to give the general reader the knowledge he or she needs to assess and understand the next big story in genetics.

Preface / vii

Acknowledgments / xi

Chapter 1: The Birth of Genetics / 3

Chapter 2: Genes and Information Flow / 25

Chapter 3: Body Building and Genetics / 44

Chapter 4: Why and How Do Genes Vary?    65

Chapter 5: How Genes Rescued Darwinian Evolution / 88

Chapter 6: Genetics and the Evolutionary Tree of Life / 107

Chapter 7: The Genetics of Human Evolution / 133

Chapter 8: The Rainbow Diversity of Humanity / 151

Chapter 9: The Genetic Basis of Disease / 169

Chapter 10: Guarding Our Genomes: The Impact of Epigenetics / 194

Chapter 11: Genetic Engineering / 224

Chapter 12: Genetics and the Big Questions of Life / 255

Notes / 285

Index / 303 

From Mendel's experiments with peas to the sequencing of the human genome, from disease to personality Denis Alexander engages the reader in a fascinating tour of the science of genetics. From his wide experience and broad knowledge Denis describes the science in a way that is accessible to the general reader. He then asks what this tells us about our human identity, responsibility, purpose, and free will, and concludes that scientific and religious explanations are complementary descriptions of who we are and what makes us tick.

Keith R. Fox, Professor of Biochemistry, University of Southampton Chairman, Christians in Science

Genetics is rightly perceived as a complex, difficult, and rapidly advancing discipline. But it is a fundamental subject if we seek to understand ourselves, as well as modern medicine, agriculture, where we come from, and how human behavior is modulated. The Language of Genetics is informative, fully up-to-date, and eminently readable. Read it, you'll enjoy it!

Francisco J. Ayala , University of California, Irvine, and author of Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion and Am I a Monkey?

Book News, Inc—Portland OR—December 2011

Alexander, a biological researcher at the Faraday Institute at St. Edmund’s College, UK, helps general readers interested in the sciences who have no scientific background understand the language of genetics. He explains the birth of the field, the structure of DNA, information flow in genes, their role in creating the body and regulating behavior, mutations, their function in the evolutionary process, speciation, human evolution, race and migrations, genetic variation and ancestry, forensic DNA, the genetic basis of disease, epigenetics, genetic engineering, and implications for ideas of human value and uniqueness.

Eurobishop Blog

This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to know about the study of genetics and for anyone interested in the philosophical and ethical issues raised by advances in genetics, and general questions about the compatibility of science and faith.

Bishop David Hamid