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Glowing GenesReview - Glowing Genes
A Revolution In Biotechnology
by Marc Zimmer
Prometheus Books, 2005
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H.
Dec 12th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 50)

Glowing Genes meticulously engraves deep cutting information pertinent to the nascent "glowing genes" revolution. The author, Marc Zimmer, is a Professor of Chemistry at Connecticut College, with a sharply hewed research interest in exploring the daunting research frontiers of the scientifically intriguing phenomenon of light signals emitted by plants and animals, or "bioluminescence". The substantive emphasis of the book is on how genes from glowing organisms, very importantly including a glowing protein called green fluorescent protein from the Aequorea victoria species of jellyfish, are the spark igniting the conflagration of the glowing genes revolution. There is, further, in depth contemplation riveting attention on a vastly spanning gamut of potential applications spawned by bioluminescence, reaching disparately to: biotechnology, medicine, biology, art, the food industry, space related research and the military. Certainly for readers in the unyielding grip of concern about difficult, and even divisive, scientific and ethics tinged issues tied to the basic science of bioluminescence, and fractious questions appertaining to its multifarious applications, Zimmer's timely, informative, and very well written book is an intellectually invigorating repository of scientific treasures.

Structurally, this edifying book is comprised of sixteen chapters, preceded by an "introduction" which interestingly shows readers a fleeting glimpse of the fascinating realm of glowing genes. Adjoining the textual material are a plethora of research references ("Notes"). A collection of "figures", in the form of visual images (with accompanying brief annotations) further fortifies the book's structural power.

Substantively, the quite considerable amount of technically abstruse material embedded in the textual body imbues the book with a sizable measure of academic staidness. However, the style used by Zimmer does not uniformly evince the rigid stiffness associated customarily with academic writing. There is, actually, a bit of dissonance between the substance and style of the book.

The scientific import of green fluorescent protein extensively permeates the textual corpus. Indeed, Zimmer confers on green fluorescent protein the scientific research status of the "microscope" of the 21st century. The bioluminescence of jellyfish and fireflies collectively garner intense attention. Some of the knotty historic related roots implanted in the soil of light producing organisms, importantly encompassing jellyfish and firefly luminescence, are disentangled in Chapter Two. Laboring in workaday fashion, Zimmer, in Chapter Three, follows carefully the research trail of the emission of light by fireflies. In Chapter Four, Zimmer engages readers' attention by recounting details of the invaluable contributions of Dr. Osamu Shimomura to the investigation of jellyfish bioluminescence. The toilsome research efforts of Dr. Martin Chalfie, focusing on the roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) and green fluorescent protein, are the principal focus of Chapter Six.

A sea change occurs in Chapter Seven. In this chapter, Zimmer commences arduous spadework, intended broadly to unearth some of the myriad potential applications of green fluorescent protein. Topics broached envelop transgenic: zebra fish, flowers, potatoes, and tadpoles. Transgenic "art" is revealingly studied in Chapter Eight. Subjects importantly including protein folding and x-ray crystallography are discerningly reviewed in Chapter Nine. A range of issues connected to green fluorescent protein analogs are commented on instructively in Chapter Ten.

Zimmer wrote his book at a propitious time. Plainly, the time is ripe for robust, uninhibited debate addressing scientifically and ethically polarizing questions associated with genetic modified organisms, genetic engineering, mutant species, and transgenic organisms. In Chapter Eleven, Zimmer opines that it may be possible to make a transgenic green fluorescent protein human using biomolecular techniques available presently. In this enthralling chapter, Zimmer weighs in also on the potential scientific value of producing transgenic monkies. An absorbing discussion of xenotransplantation is further sewed craftily, into the fabric of the chapter's text.

Considerable scientific territory falls within the widely ranging ken, of Zimmer. In Chapter Thirteen, Zimmer discourses informatively on how glowing genes may possibly be used effectually by cancer researchers. Readers' attention is raptly engaged, in Chapter Fourteen, by thoughtful comment on sundry potential uses of green fluorescent protein in various sub realms, of medicine. In the book's penultimate chapter (Chapter Fifteen). Zimmer expounds soberingly on glowing genes in the context of possible applications interjoined with the military and bioterrorism.

A strong intellectual current coursing powerfully through this engrossing book is the sage admonition that the glowing genes revolution is fraught with much promise as well as great uncertainty. Although glowing genes are a burgeoning field of research interest, much remains unknown about this still rather fallow region. An important reality is that many complex questions relating to bioluminescence remain unanswered, including difficult questions attached to its scientific substance as well as questions tethered to its myriad potential applications. And not insignificantly, many of the demanding scientific questions are further joined to nettlesome ethical related concerns.

A wide panorama of readers are potential intellectual beneficiaries of this excellent book. Biologists, chemists, biochemists, geneticists, bioethicists, medical scientists, and environmentalists are among those who may be enriched greatly by Zimmer's stellar contribution to the glowing genes literature.

 

2006 Leo Uzych

 

Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.


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