In Mendel's Footnotes

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9780099288756: In Mendel's Footnotes

The world could be changed forever by new biotechnologies: cloning, 'genomics' and, above all, by genetic engineering. 'Designer crops' - GMOs - are already with us. The 'designer baby' is now being planned. We need to understand the issues involved and to find acceptable and robust ways to control our own ingenuity. But how can we do so when the ideas seem so complex and various that even the experts appear confused? In the 1950s and '60s, growing peas in his monastery garden in Brno in Moravia, Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel worked out the basic laws of heredity. Once we understand what Mendel did and why - and why nobody did it sooner - all subsequent advances fall naturally into place and a brilliant light is thrown on to the future of humanity. The story of genetics and its underlying principles are utterly compelling - and beguilingly simple to grasp. (2001-07-30)

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Product Description:

In the 1850s and 1860s, growing peas in his monastery garden in Brno in Moravia, Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel worked out the basic laws of heredity. Colin Tudge argues that once what Mendel is understood, subsequent advances fall naturally into place and light is thrown on humanity's future.

Review:

If an obscure MittelEuropean monk named Gregor Mendel hadn't spent the middle part of the last century messing about with peas, the world would be a very different place today. It was Mendel's pea-based experiments in heredity that led directly to the theory of genetics, which provided the missing keystone in Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and which in turn resulted in our genetically obsessed modern world, with its Frankenstein foods, designer offspring, and ever more intense arguments over the pre-determination, or otherwise, of human personality. In a way, without Mendel there would have been no Natural Born Killers.

This is the fascinating history charted by well-known science writer Colin Tudge (The Variety of Life). From Mendel's Moravian allotment, through Crick and Watson's discovery of DNA, to the horrors of Nazi eugenics, Tudge pursues the sometimes tortured and always controversial life-story of the genetic concept. Unwilling to shirk an argument, Tudge frankly confronts the virtues and vices of sociobiology (the idea that natural selection moulded the human psyche), along with the long-term Darwinian prognosis for homo sapiens as a species (ie are we going to keep "getting better?"). Throughout this lucid and well-written work the monastic spirit of Mendel himself seems to preside: the whole has an air of wry, detached sagacity.--Sean Thomas

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