Autumn Blues Reviews's Reviews > The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean
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Aug 07, 12

bookshelves: reviewed
Read from July 23 to August 06, 2012

Highly entertaining, yet shockingly true.


Being a lover of science I was drawn to this book and not only by my interest in the genetic code. Reason is The Violinist’s Thumb reminds me of a scientific version of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, so shockingly true. Sam Kean takes the reader on a trip through DNA land. From the start you get to meet those famous and not so famous, yet monumental people who took those first initiatives in working with genes and the sequencing of DNA. Knowing very little about DNA I did find some codes Sam listed in regards to DNA sequencing to be slightly confusing. But those were few and far between and Sam succeeds to keep genetics as interesting as possible throughout this book. For example I found the chapter on Einstein and what actually happened to his brain very entertaining. While I was quite surprised that a nun by the name of Sister Mary Michael Stimson was a researcher throughout the 1940′s in the study of DNA, and how before turning to genes, Sister Stimson even helped create the well know hemorrhoidal cream “Preparation H.”

Some interesting knowledge I came away with included how human genes make up less than 2% of the current total human DNA. Even more intereting yet in a creepy way is how humans have descended from viruses. This enlightenment came to be during the “Human Gnome Project.” Where at that time about 200 hundred biologists learned that a mighty big chunk of our gnome consists of virus genes. If that is not enough to creep you out how about the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii. You know that parasite that can be found in any cat lovers litter box. Toxo has been popular in the news scene lately. However what CNN fails to tell you is how scientists have discovered that two of its eight thousand genes have adapted to building dopamine. Humans infected by Toxoplasma grow cysts in their brains. Those infected with it find it difficult to part with their cats as the scent of cat urine provides a turn on and addiction. Which makes complete sense when you take into account the behavior of a cat hoarders.

It’s no secret that humans have been genetically engineering animals and more so plants since the beginning of agriculture which spans thousands of years through our past. But who could forget the birth of Dolly the first sheep clone in 1997. Who knew that Dolly actually went on to birth six little lambs of her own naturally, I sure didn’t. In all I found the book mighty fascinating and if it wasn’t for the few times Sam seemed to forget people like me with no genetic background would be reading this book, I would have given him another sparkly star.

Information on DNA coding brought back memories for me. I remembered when I had first heard about the HGP (Human Gnome Project), and how DNA sequencing might be used in the future to help those with medical conditions and illnesses. Later not long after news that the Human Gnome had been decoded the scientific community seemed to have gone silent. Part of the reason could be that we humans do not have as many genes as once thought, just slighting less than 26, 000. While sequencing has help scientist in many ways the irony is that because of the small amount of genes humans contain it has made it even more difficult for science work with.
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