Books Worth Reading - Bacteria and the Human Genome
This is the second in an occasional series in which I share books that I think are worthy of attention. My interests range across a wide range of topics.
Recently my focus has been on learning more about DNA and how genetics affect human and other animal life.
Bacteria long predate the evolution of the human species. For a long time the primary perception and focus of attention was on bacteria as agents of disease.
Recent research has provided a more nuanced view. Bacteria are now known to play a critical role in the development and well-being of animals, including humans. If bacteria were to vanish suddenly from the planet it would not be long before humans also disappeared.
The long process of evolution has also led to
similar cellular processes and genetic components across a variety of life forms. I have included books that discuss recent findings about the genome.
The growing level of knowledge about genetics now provides the possibility of making changes to the genome. This raises ethical questions that will need to be addressed by society.
It is now known that many humans carry anywhere up to
3 or 4 percent Neanderthal genetic inheritance. Human attempts to consider themselves 'exceptional' have often resulted in a convoluted scientific process. A recent book, 'The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack', explores this history.
The more complex elements that make up everything in our world originated within stars. We are literally 'star stuff'. This is the topic of a fascinating book - "Your Atomic Self'.
All of the books listed here have greatly expanded my knowledge about the intricate details of life that often remain hidden from our direct view. The content and quality of writing
makes the various topics more easily accessible, particularly for those without a science background.
In a complex world it is important to understand and stay current with recent advances in science. Reading any one of these books will contribute to that understanding. Of course, I hope you will read them all.
Life’s Greatest Secret, Matthew Cobb, Basic Books, 2015.
The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack: and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution,Ian Tattersall.St. Martin's Press, 2015.
Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable, Paul G. Falkowski, Princeton University Press, 2015.
Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe, Curt Stager, Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.
GMO Sapiens: The Life-Changing Science of Designer Babies, Paul Knoepfler, World Scientific Publishing Co, 2015.
The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures, Christine Kenneally, Penguin Books, 2015.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, Ed Yong, Ecco, 2016.