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The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment Paperback – Mar 17 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; REP edition (March 17 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006775
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 12.5 x 18.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #343,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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Format: Hardcover
This an interesting book by an author who, pretty much, stopped writing when he completed his message.
His main message is that DNA is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to the structure of life. Other important factors are the conditions within the organism's cell (including what chemicals are present, and how the DNA folds), what the organism's environment is, and how the organism changes that environment.
Lewontin worries that because scientists can now easily analyze and manipulate genetic structure, scientists will overemphasize research on the DNA structure itself, leaving other important and significant biology unstudied.
The author also points out that while dramatic mutations are chosen to study mutations, many mutations aren't so dramatic, and that some of the "dramatic mutations" are in fact the combination of several lesser mutations.
The writing is unnecessarily complex in places, including one passage where the author claims "Causal claims are usually ceteris paribus, but in biology all other things are almost never equal." How many readers recognize the Latin phrase "ceteris paribus" ? The author also buys into the duality so common in discourse: _either_ DNA is the only important thing, _or_ DNA is a minor side-issue. What happened to the middle road?
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Format: Hardcover
Ok, so my review will be short. I believe this book is excelent since it accomplish to set clear why genetic determinism is wrong. Genes do not act by their own, they do so inside a cell which (at least in multicelular organisms) is just one more in millions (being that a prudent estimate to a small organism) whith whom it comunicates. Now, this is just part of the story, you still have to consider this organism lives in a specific habitat in which it develops (crucial step) and in which it feeds, moves (if it can), etc. So utimately genes are a full orchestra directed by surroundings.
I highly recomend this book to anyone interested in Molecular Biology, Genetics or Developmental Biology, it is basic but esential.
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Format: Hardcover
Like everything else in life why should the reading of the Human Genome remain free discussion and debate on its merits and its false promises? THE TRIPLE HELIX like another recent book in the same vein - THE CENTURY OF THE GENE, - take it as their duty to throw cold water on all the happy gene talk in recent popular science books.
The Human Genome Project is not the primary target for criticism here; what Mr Lewontin objects to is the simplified approach of popular biology that insists on treating genes, organisms, and environments as distinctly seperate. Instead "taken together, the relations of genes, organisms, and environment are reciprocal relations in which all three elements are both cause and effects. Genes and environment are both causes of organisms, which are, in turn, causes of environments, so that genes become causes of environments as mediated by the organism." Quite plainly he says that organisms alter, modify, or in some cases create, their environments. Therefore in the great either/or debate on nature versus nurture, Mr Lewontin would argue it's neither/nor.
Taking neither side of the debate may lead one to believe that Mr Lewontin is then a supporter of a new theory, or an advocate of a new approach to determining biological truths. Not so. "It is not new principles that we need but a willingness to accept the consequences of the fact that biological systems occupy a different region of the space of physical relations than do simpler physico-chemical systems...that is, organisms are internally heterogeneous open systems."
General readers can manage the book because Mr Lewontin writes well, and in being critical, he takes time to explain his views.
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Format: Hardcover
This little book contains three lectures given by Lewontin at the Lezioni Italiani in Milan a few years ago. It is technical and aimed at an educated readership. Since there is not enough space here to discuss the entire book, I will concentrate on a brief discussion of the first, "Gene and Organism."
In this lecture Professor Lewontin outlines the role that genes, environment and chance ("random noise") play in the development of an organism. As he phrases it on page 20: "the organism is not specified by its genes, but is a unique outcome of an ontogenetic process that is contingent on the sequence of environments in which it occurs." This means that you could take the same genetic code and have it unfurl in Hyde Park and get an organism different from one you would get having it unfurl on, say, the Boston commons. Lewontin shows how cuttings from the same plant cultured at different altitudes developed differentially, and in a manner that could not be predicted. The reason they could not be predicted is that there is a significant amount of random variation ("developmental noise") that occurs as the plant grows. Lewontin gives the further example of a multiplying bacterium on page 37. The bacterium divides in 63 minutes. In another 63 minutes the daughter cells should divide again, giving four bacteria, but actually there is some random variation in how long it takes them to divide, so that one daughter divides in say 55 minutes, the other in an hour and five minutes. And this continues so that the bacteria culture does not increase in pulses, but continuously in random increments.
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