Our Genetic Destiny is a fascinating account of the origin, evolution, and organization of our genes. At the heart of life, genes tell our cells what to do, when to grow, and what to become. They are passed on faithfully from one generation to the next, from parent to child, a seemingly comfortable constant across millennia.
In the mid-nineties, however, genes were found to be imponderably complex, more subtle and intricate than we ever imagined. They amplify and duplicate themselves; they leap from one chromosome to another; they reshuffle to create new images of themselves. Far from being predictably stable, following a preset schedule, genes are surprisingly versatile.
Biologists are now able to retrace the steps to the origin of life when the first cell appeared some 3.8 billion years ago. Ever since, the descendants of that original ancestor have become increasingly diverse. This upward trend, punctuated by bursts of innovations, is underpinned by the genes, which are organized into elaborate networks. Understanding the nature of this genetic architecture is a long quest of biologists, who seek to find the unifying principle that governs life. As the outlines of this come into sharp focus, we are granted unparalleled insights into our genetic past, present, and future.
This knowledge about genes has important practical implications. As we understand in greater detail how living cells work, the causes of some crippling and dreaded diseases are being unraveled. This information is already being used to craft new drugs to deal with a wide range of illnesses, sush as blood disorders like thalassaemia and heaemophilia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystriophy, cardeovascular diseases, cancer, and AIDS.
Our Genetic Destiny provides a stimulating description of what may well be science's greatest and most challenging field.
Dr. Amil Shah graduated from McGill University and completed his post-doctoral studies at the Montreal General Hospital and the Vancouver Hospital. He is Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, where he practices medicine. Dr. Shah is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and of the American College of Physicians. He has published many papers on the treatment of cancer.