In this exploration of the concept of the gene, Jonathan Slack looks at the discovery, nature, and role of genes in both evolution and development. By explaining the nature of genetic variation in the human population, how hereditary factors were identified as molecules of DNA, and how certain specific mutations can lead to disease, Slack highlights how DNA variants are used to trace human ancestry and migration, and can also be used by forensic scientists to identify individuals in crime. He also explores issues such as the role of genetic heritability and IQ as well as the changes that occur in the genes of populations during evolution.
An ideal guide for anyone curious about what genes are and how genetics can be put to use, this Very Short Introduction demonstrates the ways in which the gene concept has been understood and used by molecular biologists, population biologists, and social scientists around the world. This second edition has been fully updated and contains new sections on the CRISPR method for targeted genetic modification, on DNA profiling, and developments in our understanding of human ancestry using ancient DNA.
List of illustrations
1. Genes before 1944
2. Genes as DNA
3. Mutations and gene variants
4. Genes as markers
5. Genes of small effect
6. Genes in evolution
Conclusion: the varied concepts of the gene
Jonathan Slack studied at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities. His specialities are embryonic development and stem cell biology. While working for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund he discovered the first inducing factor controlling embryonic development. He was Head of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Bath from 2000-2006 and Director of the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota from 2007-2012. He is an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), was awarded the Waddington Medal of the British Society for Developmental Biology in 2002 and was elected a Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2004. He is the author of Stem Cells: A Very Short Introduction (2021, OUP).
"This is a concise and accurate account of genes and what they are in a readable and convenient format."
– Sir Paul Nurse, Director, Francis Crick Institute
"Unlike the genetic material itself, this book is short, sharp, and to the point."
– Steve Jones, University College London
"We all need to know what genes are. Slack tells us with authority, clarity and grace."
– Armand Leroi, Imperial College, London
"The essential guide for getting up to speed with the ever-changing and crazily complex science of genetics."
– Adam Rutherford, University College London
"With more heat than light in many areas surrounding genetics, it is refreshing to have such a concise, precise and matter-of-fact introduction to the field. This is strongly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in a field set to dominate our lives."
– Laurence Hurst, Director of The Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath