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Guardian Unlimited
American Scientist

Evelyn Fox Keller

The century of the gene

At the beginning of the 20th century the term gene was introduced. In the middle, the structure of DNA was figured out, and by the end the human genome had been decoded. Thus it was very much the century of the gene. This book serves as a gentle introduction to genetics, including topics such as error correction and the development of an organism. However, its central point is that the concept of the gene has been overused, and in future we won't see it as being so important. It is recommended for readers who want to learn about genetics, but who require a critical view of the concepts which are being introduced.

I have to say that I found someof the arguments in this book lacked substance. For instance Keller says that the term 'genetic switch' is ambiguous, in that it could mean either a gene switching some process on or off or a gene being switched on or off by some external factor. This is true, but we live with such ambiguities all the time, without feeling that we have to abandon important concepts. Now I wouldn't like to predict that the idea of the gene will never fall out of favour - maybe in a century or so we will look at things differently. However, I wasn't persuaded that this will occur any time soon.

Product Description
In a book that promises to change the way we think and talk about genes and genetic determinism, Evelyn Fox Keller, one of our most gifted historians and philosophers of science, provides a powerful, profound analysis of the achievements of genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, the century of the gene. Not just a chronicle of biology’s progress from gene to genome in one hundred years, The Century of the Gene also calls our attention to the surprising ways these advances challenge the familiar picture of the gene most of us still entertain. Keller shows us that the very successes that have stirred our imagination have also radically undermined the primacy of the gene―word and object―as the core explanatory concept of heredity and development. She argues that we need a new vocabulary that includes concepts such as robustness, fidelity, and evolvability. But more than a new vocabulary, a new awareness is absolutely crucial: that understanding the components of a system (be they individual genes, proteins, or even molecules) may tell us little about the interactions among these components. With the Human Genome Project nearing its first and most publicized goal, biologists are coming to realize that they have reached not the end of biology but the beginning of a new era. Indeed, Keller predicts that in the new century we will witness another Cambrian era, this time in new forms of biological thought rather than in new forms of biological life.