Abraham Lincoln's DNA and Other Adventures in Genetics By Philip Reilly
339 pages - PDF - 5mb
The 21st century has begun with an overwhelming outpouring of advances in molecular biology and genetics, and the medical profession has only started to wrestle with the many social and moral questions posed by the startling progress in these fields.
Indeed, as Philip Reilly suggests in this straight-forward and readable collection of intertwined essays, society as a whole must confront these questions.
For laypeople and professionals alike who yearn for a better understanding of genetically engineered crops, DNA fingerprinting, cloning, or gene therapy, here is a valuable addition to a small but critical literature that will frame our public discourse as we decide how to use the burgeoning knowledge of the genome.
Reilly has assembled an enjoyable series of vignettes that are understandable to the novice but contain lessons for the professional geneticist.
The early chapters explain the fundamental tools of the modern genetic detective, such as the polymerase chain reaction, mutation analysis, and the difference between mendelian and nonmendelian inheritance.
The lessons are delivered in the course of fascinating historical tales (including an especially enjoyable chapter on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) with a hint of Lewis Thomas-like awe and fascination with the power of genetic analysis.
We can diagnose diseases that afflicted Abraham Lincoln by analyzing DNA recovered from the shaft of a single hair. Evidence capable of identifying the perpetrator of a crime is invariably contained in tiny molecules of DNA shed from the skin or deposited by the touch of a finger.
Reilly is trained in both genetics and law, and these advances are marvels that offer unprecedented investigative powers both for the scientist and for the police detective. At the same time, we are faced with disquieting challenges to our privacy.
Do these scientific capabilities mean that the banking of DNA samples from every citizen is inevitable? You will be convinced by Reilly's arguments that we are moving rapidly in that direction unless we educate ourselves and choose to object.