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The Society of Genes

By: Itai Yanai(Author), Martin Lercher(Author)

282 pages, 57 b/w illustrations

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Jan 2016 | #225530 | ISBN-13: 9780674425026
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £20.95 $27/€23 approx

About this book

Nearly four decades ago Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, famously reducing humans to "survival machines" whose sole purpose was to preserve "the selfish molecules known as genes." How these selfish genes work together to construct the organism, however, remained a mystery. Standing atop a wealth of new research, The Society of Genes now provides a vision of how genes cooperate and compete in the struggle for life.

Pioneers in the nascent field of systems biology, Itai Yanai and Martin Lercher present a compelling new framework to understand how the human genome evolved and why understanding the interactions among our genes shifts the basic paradigm of modern biology. Contrary to what Dawkins's popular metaphor seems to imply, the genome is not made of individual genes that focus solely on their own survival. Instead, our genomes comprise a society of genes which, like human societies, is composed of members that form alliances and rivalries.

In language accessible to lay readers, The Society of Genes uncovers genetic strategies of cooperation and competition at biological scales ranging from individual cells to entire species. It captures the way the genome works in cancer cells and Neanderthals, in sexual reproduction and the origin of life, always underscoring one critical point: that only by putting the interactions among genes at centre stage can we appreciate the logic of life.

"The writing is engaging and clear, providing ample introductory material to ensure that the interested lay reader will be swept along by both the science and the evolutionary story [...] For the general reader, Yanai and Lercher's discussions of cancer, immunology, sexual reproduction, and population genetics are well worth exploring."
Publishers Weekly

"Written by two of the smartest young thinkers in their fields, The Society of Genes is an absorbing, thought-provoking exploration of the intersection of genetics, evolutionary biology, and society."
– Eric Lander, Professor of Biology at MIT and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

"The Society of Genes is punchy, provocative, and timely and a must-read for us all."
– Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology, Stanford University and Recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry



1. Evolving Cancer in Eight Easy Steps
2. How Your Enemies Define You
3. What's the Point of Having Sex?
4. The Clinton Paradox
5. Promiscuous Genes in a Complex Society
6. The Chuman Show
7. It's in the Way That You Use It
8. Theft, Imitation, and the Roots of Innovation
9. A Secret Life in the Shadows
10. Life's Unwinnable War against Freeloaders

Further Reading

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Itai Yanai is Associate Professor of Biology at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University. Martin Lercher is Professor of Bioinformatics at Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf.

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