The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves

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9780192862082: The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves
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Over the past twenty years there has been a revolution in biology--for the first time scientists have been able to unravel the details of how organisms make themselves. The mechanisms by which a fertilized egg develops into an adult can now be grasped in a way that was unimaginable a few decades ago. The Art of Genes is the first account of these exciting new findings, and of their broader significance in how we view ourselves.
Through a highly original synthesis of sciece and art, Enrico Coen vividly describes this revolution in our understanding of how plants and animals develop. Drawing on a wide range of material--from flowers growing petals instead of sex organs, and flies that develop an extra pair of wings, to works of art by Leonardo and Magritte--he explains in lively accessible prose the meaning of genes. Coen draws parallels between the way genes respond to the developing pattern of an organism and the way an artist responds to a painting being created on canvas, a memorable analogy that shows how the organism develops through an interactive dialogue in which there is no separation between plan and execution.
There have been many attempts to resolve the paradox of how organisms make themselves. Lucid, authoritative, and entertaining, The Art of Genes offers fresh and exciting insights into the nature of evolution, development, and human creativity.

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Review:

Genetics is a complex subject and many of the metaphors writers use to explain it-- in particular those which draw facile comparisons between genetics and computing--are seriously misleading.

Enrico Coen's erudite code-to-carcass account of plant and animal development is set to change all that. Besotted with the way genes recreate forms over and over with unerring accuracy, we tend, Coen argues, to assume that the "blueprints" for these "copies" are entirely contained within the genes. Instead, Coen would have us imagine an organism's genetic code as the record of an artist's mood, immediately prior to starting a painting. Each organism, Coen argues, is like a painting--the unique product of creative genes, reacting constructively to the appearance of the "canvas" as it develops. What maintains fidelity from generation to generation is not the ability of genes to "copy" whole bodies, but their faithful recapitulation of artistic moods. Imagine Leonardo, gripped with recurrent amnesia, painting the Mona Lisa, over and over and over again. No painting that results is really a "copy" and neither is any organism.

At first glance, these artistic analogies appear dangerously anthropomorphic; so Coen has taken extreme care to define his terms and say what each analogy is meant to achieve. The result is not the easiest book--but who cares about that? Genetics is not the easiest subject and only Coen, to date, has captured its extraordinary beauty and complexity in terms the general reader can enjoy and--more important--trust. --Simon Ings

Review:

"It is arguable that the most important advance in biology in the past twenty years has been the revolution in our understanding of the mechanisms of development.... Developmental biology has been transformed from a field in which ingenious manipulative experiments generated speculations about
unobservable underlying causes, such as gradients and prepatterns, to one in which we have a very detailed knowledge of what is actually going on at the molecular and cellular level. Enrico Coen has written a book that attempts, with considerable success, to convey the essence of this revolution to
the lay reader. It will also be of great interest to those biologists...who have only a superficial knowledge of the subject."TREE
"It is arguable that the most important advance in biology in the past twenty years has been the revolution in our understanding of the mechanisms of development.... Developmental biology has been transformed from a field in which ingenious manipulative experiments generated speculations about
unobservable underlying causes, such as gradients and prepatterns, to one in which we have a very detailed knowledge of what is actually going on at the molecular and cellular level. Enrico Coen has written a book that attempts, with considerable success, to convey the essence of this revolution to
the lay reader. It will also be of great interest to those biologists...who have only a superficial knowledge of the subject."TREE
"It is arguable that the most important advance in biology in the past twenty years has been the revolution in our understanding of the mechanisms of development.... Developmental biology has been transformed from a field in which ingenious manipulative experiments generated speculations about unobservable underlying causes, such as gradients and prepatterns, to one in which we have a very detailed knowledge of what is actually going on at the molecular and cellular level. Enrico Coen has written a book that attempts, with considerable success, to convey the essence of this revolution to the lay reader. It will also be of great interest to those biologists...who have only a superficial knowledge of the subject."TREE
"It is arguable that the most important advance in biology in the past twenty years has been the revolution in our understanding of the mechanisms of development.... Developmental biology has been transformed from a field in which ingenious manipulative experiments generated speculations about unobservable underlying causes, such as gradients and prepatterns, to one in which we have a very detailed knowledge of what is actually going on at the molecular and cellular level. Enrico Coen has written a book that attempts, with considerable success, to convey the essence of this revolution to the lay reader. It will also be of great interest to those biologists...who have only a superficial knowledge of the subject."TREE


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