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Lisa Seachrist Chiu

When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish

Advances in genetics mean that the genes behind a large number of medical conditions are being discovered. In lWhen a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish: ...and Other Amazing Tales about the Genes in Your Body Lisa Seachrist Chiu tells the stories of some of these.

The book starts with the story of the 'fishy' gene of the title FMO3. Chiu goes on to look at the different ways in which genes can go wrong. Some of the best known examples are recessive genes, such as that for phenylketuria, in which people can carry one defective gene without a problem, but someone with two defective copies has a problem. However, sometimes the defective gene is dominant, in which case only one copy is needed. An example of this is porphyria, which supposedly was responsible for the madness of King George III. The book goes on to describe diseases such a hemophilia, where the defective gene is on the X-chromosome, and at how one or other of the pair of genes can be turned off (known as imprinting), giving results such as the calico cat. One chapter considers how, despite the fact that most traits are the result of many genes, a single gene can still have an effect, and this is followed by a look at how the gene pool has evolved over time, caused by things such as the Black Death.

I have to say that I didn't really find that this book grabbed my interest. Chiu generally devotes just two or three pages to each gene, and a would have preferred a more extensive discussion of fewer genes. Although the book is accessible to a non-technical readership, sometimes technicalities are necessary, and I feel that if this were diluted then the book would be more readable. I think the book will mainly appeal to those readers who see this as a start and wish to learn more about some of the genes - there are plenty of references at the end of the book.

Product Description
From the gene that causes people to age prematurely to the "bitter gene" that may spawn broccoli haters, this book explores a few of the more exotic locales on the human genome, highlighting some of the tragic and bizarre ways our bodies go wrong when genes fall prey to mutation and the curious ways in which genes have evolved for our survival.
Lisa Seachrist Chiu has a smorgasbord of stories to tell about rare and not so rare genetic quirks. We read about the Dracula Gene, a mutation in zebra fish that causes blood cells to explode on contact with light, and suites of genes that also influence behavior and physical characteristics; the Tangier Island Gene, first discovered after physicians discovered a boy with orange tonsils (scientists now realize that the child's odd condition comes from an inability to process cholesterol); and Wilson's Disease, a gene defect that fails to clear copper from the body, which can trigger schizophrenia and other neurological symptoms, and can be fatal if left untreated. Friendlier mutations include the Myostatin gene, which allows muscles to become much larger than usual and enhances strength and the much-envied Cheeseburger Gene, which allows a lucky few to eat virtually anything they want and remain razor thin.
While fascinating us with stories of genetic peculiarities, Chiu also manages to effortlessly explain much of the cutting-edge research in modern genetics, resulting in a book that is both informative and entertaining. It is a must read for everyone who loves popular science or is curious about the human body.