Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance
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Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  128 ratings  ·  31 reviews
"The potential is staggering. . . . The age of epigenetics has arrived."—Time, January 2010

Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that...more
Hardcover, 234 pages
Published June 13th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Intriguing findings, just giving readers a taste of several discoveries and applications in this new field, whetting their appetite to go find out more. I found particularly interesting his discussion of preformationism (that the entity exists in its entirety at the start of conception and grows) vs. epigenesis (that an embryo evolves through the process of cellular division and specialization into a type of entity that wasn't pre-existently there at the beginning of the process). The popular id...more
Why aren't identical twins actually identical? Why are genetic clones not identical? Do stressed moms bear stressed children? Why is the product of a cross between a male donkey and a female horse different from a cross between a female donkey and a male horse? Why do some cancers appear to regress without any obvious reason? Questions like these are addressed in this book as it attempts to introduce a curious but uninformed audience to some fascinating discoveries in genetics. Epigenetics is a...more
Michael Vagnetti
An extended essay on the fascinating subject of how the environment affects genes without changing the DNA sequence. The argument is that genes are not always in executive control, but work, "improvisationally" within the biochemical environment of the cell. Social inheritance, for example, is discussed: how our cultural decisions end up making an imprint on who we are as biological humans.
Nice overview of what's known about an emerging subfield in genetics, with interesting examples, and aimed toward the general reader. Some parts are more interesting than others. Science types may want a bit more specificity; non-science types may want a little less. Francis' underlying (or overarching) perspective is that not all character traits (phenotypic expression) are due to the nuclear genes, and that other intracellular processes can and do contribute.

His first example of this has to do...more
This book is an excellent introduction to the field of epigenetics. This area is going to help define the biological framework on which will be built a more comprehensive medicine. It is providing the important linkage between environment (physical and psychological)and physiological outcomes that can be transgenerational.

The Dutch famine of WW II provided a natural experiment on the effects of maternal nutrition on fetal development. The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study is ongoing and stud...more
Candice Carpenter
A great primer on the astonishing new developments within the arising field of Epigenetics. Beware, a solid background in college biology, genetics, and immunology is necessary to read this book with understanding. A definite recommendation for bio majors, pre-meds, and geeky non-science folks who like to dabble in science from time to time. But in a nutshell, what is epigenetics? Essentially, everything that happens on TOP of and AROUND our actual genes, or our individual genomes. For instance,...more
Kerry Cunningham
I've read a good deal of the popular genetics stuff, and I've had a class in micro-biology, so I've had a pretty good base for this book. Even if I hadn't, though, I think this would be pretty accessible. I'm not a great judge of that, though.

One of the biggest surprises in recent scientific history was finding out that humans do not have an exceptional genome. The stuff that makes humans human is very similar to what makes everything else whatever it is. Our genome isn't necessarily bigger or...more
This book is surprisingly easy to understand for the layperson. The author uses real-life examples and narratives to illustrate the information he is relaying to the reader. While most science books tend to read very dryly, like a tech manual, this book is more than the facts. It is thought provoking. I learned a lot from this book and intend to use some of the author's examples to help my biology students understand some of the basics of DNA, genes and chromosomes. I am not sure if my students...more
Weirdly short, especially considering how much padding there is. I wanted to hear more about the evidence of its existence; but mabe that's asking for too much statistics?

He says some about where the evidence comes from (like the famine in the Netherlands at the end of WWII), though mostly in non-human species, but not enough of what it is. Learned some things, like the cancer that is communicable in Tasmanian Devils; and the fact that females with XX have one X in each cell 'turned off', but i...more
Lukáš Lovas
Not quite, what I hoped for. The author didn't dum the subject down too much, which is good, but then again...considering the complexity of epigenetics...at times, it was too technical, but the conclusions are fascinating. Wonderful subject :)
A basic background in genetics necessary to get the most out of this book, but otherwise it's written with interested laymen in mind. Epigenetics is the fascinating study of gene regulation that goes above an beyond the DNA base pair sequence that makes up the genes. Can your cells tell which chromosomes are paternal and which are maternal? Yes! And does whether or not your grandmother suffered through a famine when pregnant with your mother effect you? Yes again! Epigenetics- the newest scienti...more
Other reviewers weren't kidding when they said "brief introduction." Brief it was. And that's probably a good thing since the writing just didn't reel me in. On the bright side, I got the basics and now I can move on to other things. Though I'm probably going to worry about Tasmanian devils for some time....

I did enjoy the chapter on X inactivation but probably because it evoked memories of a book I once enjoyed on the X chromosome (X in Sex).

As far as reading it on my Kindle, I really, really d...more
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
THERE HAS BEEN a revolution in the world of genetics. It is called epigenetics. The Greek prefix “epi” implies something that comes in addition to something else; epigenetics adds to the study of genes the study of how they get turned on or off. Although a Martian eavesdropping on conversations about genetics in the popular media would surely conclude that genes and traits correspond in a one-to-one ratio, in reality the twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand genes in the human genome do not au...more
Mo Tipton
This is a pretty basic introduction to epigenetics, so if you're looking for a super in-depth exploration, this probably isn't the book for you. Francis does a fantastic job of pulling in interesting case studies to illustrate each chapter's theme, everything from contagious cancer in Tasmanian Devils to Dr. Frankenstein-like rearrangement of stem cells in sea urchins. It's also very easy to read and relatively short, so it's a great way to dip one's toes into the subject matter.
Fantastic book written in a very accessible style, though not an easy read. Done for a lay audience with a basic science background. Now I feel I understand what epigenetics is. I didn't have a clear sense of that before. I was even able to hold my own in a discussion about epigenetics the other day. The book just scratches the surface but I finally have the foundation to go out and research it more.
KJ Dellantonia
This was good but serious stuff about long term changes in genes because of short term things that happen to us as individuals. Way scarier, in its way, than Annie Murphy Paul's book, and all about how factors like a famine or other generational episode effects future generations.

I'm glad Slate's reviewing it, though. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it as a book of the week.
People got this right 3 to 4 starts. For a non-scientist like myself its better than for one who has done other reading or study of the subject. It covers a lot of ground but the writing, in spite of some interesting introductory interludes, is dry and especially int he section on cancer, lacking in explanatory depth. More metaphor also might have helped.
I was a little disappointed at first that this book was too high level.
Had just been to a lecture at Fermilab by Alex Ruthenburg from
University of Chicago, which had gotten me interested in this field.
But the book does give a good overview of a lot of work being
done in this field, and is a good non-technical reference. Would
definitely recommend it.
It was far too short (only about 160 pages!) and far too basic to hold my attention very well. There was some genuinely interesting information in here (especially concerning cancer), but it never really explored anything in depth. A little frustrating, to be honest.
Rick Wedgeworth
The author provides a decent overview of the field, some historical context, and describes many real life examples where epigenetics and genetics interplay to cause various behaviors and conditions. The book does get too deep so is not particularly technical.
Nov 15, 2011 !Tæmbuŝu marked it as to-read

Reviewed by The Slate
An interesting look at Epigentics and how environment has an effect on our genetic code. Full of information, but I believe that if it was organized better that it would be more effective in explaining the subject.
A good introduction to epigenetics. The book explains epigenetics by using several examples that almost everyone can connect to. Good read if you want to get to know the field of epigenetics.
Maybe it was just that I had too much background, but for me this held nothing new and everything seemed a little to pat and too easy for answers. Maybe a good genetics introduction.
Only got through half of this before I had to give it back. Very vague. No glossary. I think they just wanted to get the first book about epigenetics out there.
Linda Van
Well worth reading; it's pretty easy, but you should, if you're like me, keep a list of the acronyms as you go along.
John Chadwick
Aug 18, 2011 John Chadwick is currently reading it
Excellent, readable introduction to a fascinating, paradigm changing area of basic scientific reseearch and medicine.
Too low of a level. On the plus side reading it only took 2 hours of my life.
Nice introduction to the promising field of epigenetics.
My only wish would be for it be longer
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Richard C. Francis is a writer who has a PhD in biology from Stanford University. He is the author of Why Men Won't Ask for Directions. He lives in New York City.
More about Richard C. Francis...
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