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American Scientist

Enrico Coen

The Art of Genes

When you start to think about how an organism develops from a single cell you realise that it isn't as straightforward as it may seem. It isn't like creating an object from a blueprint, but the question is what is it like? In The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves Enrico Coen uses the metaphor of artistic creativity to describe the process of development.

Coen starts by introducing the idea of hidden colours - a code which determines how different parts of an organism start off the same but develop differently, for instance the different parts of a flower, or the segments of an insect. He explains how this is achieved via master proteins which can switch certain characteristics on or off. He then shows how diffusion of a chemical can lead a concentration gradient, and so a distinction between different parts of the organism. Later chapters of the book look at the place of symmetry in the development process.

The book has plenty of pictures - both diagrams of the organisms in question and works of art used to explain the artistic metaphor. This metaphor does get a bit far-fetched at times - for instance numerous artists on an expanding canvas - but I felt that it was generally a useful one, and leads well into a discussion of why development should be thought of as a creative process, rather than a predetermined path. However if you are knowledgeable in the subject then you will probably find the book rather slow going - I think it is more aimed at those looking for a gentle introduction to the role of genes in development.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 400 pages  
ISBN: 0192862081
Salesrank: 2508576
Weight:1.09 lbs
Published: 2000 Oxford University Press
Amazon price $31.95
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 400 pages  
ISBN: 0192862081
Salesrank: 304905
Weight:1.09 lbs
Published: 2000 Oxford University Press, USA
Amazon price £27.49
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 396 pages  
ISBN: 0192862081
Salesrank: 814011
Weight:1.09 lbs
Published: 2000 Oxford Paperbacks
Amazon price CDN$ 55.85
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 49.00:Used from CDN$ 3.98
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Product Description

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.