It’s a brave thing to give a scientist a popular science book about their field. I could see this knowledge in my friend’s eyes as I unwrapped My Beautiful Genome and I could hear it in her plaintive ‘I hope it’s good…’
She needn’t have worried; My Beautiful Genome was a fascinating romp through the amazing possibilities (and current limitations) of all things genetic. From revealing mankind’s history to genetic screening for disease to the inevitable question of designer babies, Lone Frank took us on a journey which was in turn inspiring, terrifying and deeply personal.
It was a brilliant insight into the expansion of a once niche field into the consumer market. As more and more of what was once the ‘lay public’ are having their genome’s sequenced, or at least screened; Frank asks the questions on all our lips. How far will this go? What can we do with the information?
It left me feeling somewhat conflicted: on the one hand I now want to get my genome analysed by companies such as 23andMe who promise to tell me my risk factors for certain diseases. This is something I was never interested in before, and I’m still not really interested in the whole risk factor question, I don’t have a particularly disquieting family history I want to check out, but the idea of being able to see my genetics laid out before me and join the somewhat unique genetic social networking community is quite exciting.
On the other hand, the concept of ‘genetic quotient’ or GQ is something I found rather disturbing. The idea that genetic information could someday be used to decide who to have babies with or which babies to have is something I can’t quite stomach. The question is one of when to stop and I can envision things getting out of hand leading to a Gattaca kind of situation. (Don’t know Gattaca? Look it up, it’s a brilliant film starring Ethan Hawke and Jude Law in a future where designer babies are the norm and children conceived in the normal manner are judged to be genetically inferior).
The science is conveyed in a truly readable fashion and as a mark of how good Frank’s writing is; I even found myself reading the basics of genetics which since I have a degree in the subject I usually skip!
If you only ever read one book on genetics, make it this one. It covers everything you could want to know about what that tiny little molecule inside all of your cells can tell us about your past, present and future.