Book Review: Genome Generation

By Daniella Goldberg, Gene Genie Media.

This year marks the tenth anniversary since the epic task of sequencing all three billion letters of the human genome. The Genome Generation by Dr Elizabeth Finkel, molecular biologist turned science journalist, reveals the impact of the genome revolution and how it affects everyone in some way, whether it’s predicting your genetic destiny as in the movie Gattaca, designing genetically engineered foods to feed the third world, curing serious genetic diseases or understanding your ancestors.

And even the author found a few surprises when conducting her research. “When I started this book, I thought I knew it all,” says Finkel. “But in the end, nothing that I knew ended up in the book. When relying on media you get a very different view of science than when you drill down asking your own questions.”

Finkel has gathered the latest evidence about the impact of the genome from visiting doctors from hospitals in the developing world, where they are researching the genetics of AIDS-resistance. She also met with farmers and agricultural researchers in developing countries that are desperately in need of sustainable crops to feed the exploding population.

“Writing a book is like a marriage. You have to sustain the passion for a long time and I knew I could do this in three areas, medicine, agriculture and evolution,” says Dr Finkel, worked on the book for three years.

Central to Dr Finkel’s research was her annual visit to Lorne’s scientific conferences in Victoria, where she spoke to and quoted leading scientists and learned the latest findings about the human and other genomes.

“Today we have really moved into a new era and our old paradigms have shifted,” she says. For example, we used to believe that 98.5 per cent of our DNA was ‘junk.’ Now we know most junk DNA is producing RNA and has functions we never would have anticipated, such as acting like proteins or enzymes or even like genes.

Queensland genetics researcher Professor John Mattick was one of the first true believers that junk DNA really has an important function. Today, we have tools to investigate DNA to support this theory, although the verdict is still out on this complex topic.

Another paradigm that has crashed since the human genome was sequenced is the Lamarckian theory. Dr Finkel says that when she first heard of epigenetics studies showing that the environment could impact our genetic program she did not want to write a chapter about it because it went against what she was taught at university.

What is revealed in this book is very compelling and could directly impact the way pregnant mothers behave. Epigenetic researchers have shown that inter-uterine environment may have long terms genetic programming effects on the foetus. For mothers around the world, this type of data could have far reaching implications.

Dr Finkel says she wrote this book to reveal the impact of the human genome, ten years after it was sequenced. Many questions about the human genome still remain unanswered however one fact is clear: the genome is a powerful tool that will impact everyone in some way in their lives.

This is an excellent yarn.. Well worth reading!

Daniella Goldberg, Gene Genie Media.