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The language of genes has become common parlance. We know they make your eyes blue, your hair curly or your nose straight. The media tells us that our genes control the risk of cancer, heart disease, alcoholism or Alzheimer's. The cost of DNA sequencing has plummeted from billions of pounds to a few hundred, and gene-based advances in medicine hold huge promise.
So we've all heard of genes, but how do they actually work?
According to legend, Ernest Hemingway was once given a six-toed cat by an old sea captain, and her distinctive descendants still roam the writer's Florida estate today. Scientists now know that the fault driving this profusion of digits lies in a tiny genetic control switch, miles away (in molecular terms) from the gene that 'makes' toes. And it's the same mistake that gives rise to multi-toed humans too.
There are 2.2 metres of DNA inside every one of your cells, encoding roughly 20,000 genes. These are the 'recipes' that tell our cells how to make the building blocks of life, along with myriad control switches ensuring they're turned on and off at the right time and in the right place. But rather than a static string of genetic code, this is a dynamic, writhing biological library. And figuring out how it all works – how your genes make you, you – is a major challenge for researchers around the world.
Drawing on stories ranging from six-toed cats and stickleback hips to wobbly worms and zombie genes, geneticist Kat Arney explores the how our genes work, creating a companion reader to the book of life itself.
Introduction: It's all about that base
1. It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it that counts
2. Taking out the garbage
3. A bit of dogma
4. Throwing the switch
5. The secret's in the blend
6. Cats with thumbs
7. Fish with hips
8. Mice and men and mole rats, oh my!
9. Party town
10. Pimp my genome
11. Cut and paste
12. Nature's red pen
13. Ever increasing circles
14. Silence of the genes
15. Night of the living dead
16. On the hop
17. Opening a can of wobbly worms
18. Everyone's a little bit mutant
19. Opening the black box
20. Blame the parents
21. Meet the Mickey Mouse mice
22. In search of the 21st century gene
I'd like to thank …
Following a doctorate and research career in genetics, Kat Arney is now Science Communications Manager for Cancer Research UK, helping people understand the disease. According to BBC America, Kat is one ofthe ‘Top 10 Brits Who Make Science Sexy’, and she regularly appears on national TV and radio shows to talk about the latest genetic research.