(K. Brent Tomer),
The Gene: An Intimate History. By Siddhartha Mukherjee. Scribner; 592 pages; $32. Bodley Head; £25.
THE first human with a genome that has been permanently modified in a lab could be born by the end of this decade. However innocuous the changes made, the baby’s birth will mark the first time that humanity has selectively interceded to change the genetic inheritance of future generations. That is an eventuality, Siddhartha Mukherjee argues in his new book, “The Gene”, for which the world is almost wholly unprepared.
The book begins in the tranquil gardens of St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno in the mid-19th century. It was here that Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, began experiments with pea plants to see how biological traits are passed on from parents to offspring. As he bred peas with different characteristics—with purple or white flowers, or tall or dwarf plants—Mendel noticed that no purple-white flowers emerged, nor any plants of medium height. Instead, the original traits reappeared in different ratios after each cross. Mendel realised that these traits were being determined by independent particles of…Continue reading