Genetic Destinies opens with the stories of the lives of two women; gene science causes the life of one to be free of suffering but fills that of the other with discrimination and oppression. The two imaginary future lives encompass the very best and the very worst of our hopes for gene science, and understanding what is reality and what is myth, what is possible and what impossible, is the key to unlocking the reality of this feared science.
In the chapters that follow, the reality of the power of gene science is laid out using simple, non-technical terms to present the very edge of the knowledge that we possess, exploring the role genes play in rigidly defining the overall plan of our bodies and then subtly influencing our individuality, intelligence, behaviour, personality and health. Genes are often minor players in our lives because the differences that distinguish us are tiny compared to the similarities we share; it follows that our futures are in our own hands as much as in the hands of our genes.
Nevertheless, understanding the delicate influences that gene differences play in our lives is central to our thinking about ourselves, and it is in the interplay of genes and lifestyle that our personalities and individual futures can be found.
The genetic differences we each possess contain a record of the very origins of human beings and it is remarkable that our present day fates are influenced by patterns of ancient human history.
Armed with this knowledge, Genetic Destinies ends by revisiting the stories of the lives of the two women and shows that the fears we have of gene science are based upon misplaced ideas of the power of genes. The reality is that our true Genetic Destiny is to live our lives as human beings, unique, unpredictable and irreplaceable in all of history and all of future time: a wonderful prospect.
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Peter Little recently became the Professor of Medical Biochemistry at the University of New South Wales. A molecular geneticist for more than 25 years, his research has focused on the interface between molecular genetics, biology, and bioinformatics; he has published over 90 papers on his work
in these areas. He was awarded his Ph.D. in Edinburgh in 1976 and in his postdoctoral work at St Mary's Hospital Medical School in London he was involved in the first cloning of human genes-those for globin. Following research in the USA, where he held positions at Caltech and at Harvard, he
returned to the UK, working at the Institute for Cancer Research and then Imperial College in London.
Professor Little lectures widely to schools and to the general public, as well as to students and to professional scientists. He is regularly invited to explain and comment on genetics issues for radio and television.
"Little has been a molecular geneticist for more than 25 years, and when he comments near the end, "In this book, we have covered most of genetics," he does not overstate the matter. Little has explained the workings of genes from the micro to the macro levels--from protein synthesis and cell division to the mechanisms for distribution of gene differences within human populations over evolutionary time. ... thorough and meticulous ..."--Lancet
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