Genetics and Evolution

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A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics in the MadhouseGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Choosing ChildrenThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Extended Selfish GeneThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Selfish GeneThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny

Related Topics
InheritanceReview - Inheritance
How Our Genes Change Our Lives - and Our Lives Change Our Genes
by Sharon Moalem
Hachette Audio, 2014
Review by Christian Perring
Jul 29th 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 31)

Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives - and Our Lives Change Our Genes is a popular science book about the relation between genes and health.  This is his third book: he has previously written How Sex Works and Survival of the Sickest.  Moalem tells many stories of individual patients whose genetic make-up has led to health problems.  But one of his main points is that we can change our lives to change the ways that our genes express themselves, and thus we can improve our health.  He has a catchy informal style that conveys real interest in his work and sincere commitment to helping his patients. He talks to the reader as if it were a one-on-one meeting -- he says that he is going to do a genetic examination of you.   His performance of his book in the unabridged audiobook is strong: he has a good reading voice and he brings consistent energy to the recording.

Moalem hypes his own book, giving the impression that he has a brand new approach to genetics and a revolutionary message.  But when it comes down to it, all he is doing is clearing up a simplistic misunderstanding of genetics that supposes that one's genes determine one's future absolutely.  He highlights the fact that genes get expressed differently in different environments, and one can control one's gene expression by changing one's diet and levels of activity.  A Queen Bee has the same genetic make-up as worker bees; what makes her different is how she eats when she is growing.  He points out that trauma and other difficult experiences can changes one's gene expression, which can affect one's physical and psychological health.  Some people become much more likely to get cancer if they eat or smoke the wrong substances.  Even bullying can alter our gene expression.  Furthermore, epigenetic changes can be inheritable.  So pregnant women who are traumatized can have their gene expression altered, and this can affect their babies in measurable ways. 

The take home message of Inheritance is the more we know about our individual genetic nature and our gene expression, the more we will be able to take control of our health.  He emphasizes that the cost of genetic tests are reducing and he focuses on cases where genetic knowledge has made a great difference.  However, his message is primarily important to the medicine of the future; right now, our knowledge of most genetics, and our ability to change gene expression, is limited.  Furthermore, as Moalem points out, the more information we have about our genetic make-up, the more possible it is for health insurance companies in the USA to discriminate against their customers, judging them to be bad risks.  He recommends that genetic testing be done anonymously if there a chance that the results could be used against the patient.  We also need to be aware that even if genetic tests are now cheaper, they are still not very cheap, and in most cases they may not be worth the expense given the statistical unlikeliness of the conditions that they are testing for, especially when we take into account the risks of false positives and the further problems that they can cause. 

While Inheritance is interesting and informative, it won't be very useful to most readers, in the direct sense of giving them information that they can immediately use to improve their health.  But it might increase awareness of the ways in which we can use genetic information when making health care decisions, and we can gradually become used to the idea of consulting a genetic expert as well as other experts when we have medical problems. The way in which most genetic discoveries help people is for rare conditions to shed light on much more common conditions, for which medications can be developed, which in turn can be prescribed by all doctors.  So it may be that most of us will benefit from genetic research without ever having to personally consult genetic experts.

The hardcover version of Inheritance has several pages of footnotes which are not available for purchasers of the unabridged audiobook, which is an unfortunate omission.


LinkSharon Moalem website


© 2014 Christian Perring



Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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