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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic analogy, Nov. 25 2008
By 
A. Volk (Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves (Paperback)
This book does an excellent job painting the picture of how genes develop (pun intended). He makes the analogy of painting a picture to creating an organism, and it really worked for me. It's not a beginner-level book, but for anyone with a reasonable understanding of science and biology, it's a fantastic read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Developmental biology in a new light., Aug. 11 2002
By 
Luis P. Fernandez "Bookiewookie" (Cambridge, MA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves (Paperback)
Perhaps not the first time, but certainly one of the most eloquent and thought-provoking exposition of the wonderfully complex subject of biological development. The author first seems to invoke a parallel relationship of development and creativity as yin and yang, but finishes off the book with an intriguing explanation that human creativity is itself a byproduct, consequence, or continuum of development.
The Biology undergrad or grad student may have grasped the fundamentals of developmental biology from "Molecular Biology of the Cell" (Alberts, Watson, et al), "Developmental Biology" (Gilbert), or "Genes, Embryos, and Evolution" (Gerhart and Kirschner). Enrico Coen's book, however, certainly provides a fresh outlook of plant and animal development rich with comparisons to artistic creativity, hidden colors, scents and sensitivities, interpretations, elaborations, and refinements. This outlook also raises the question of whether genes that dictate development can be compared to instruction manuals or artists painting their canvas---in the case of development, the instruction and execution are inseparable, and the genes are affected by the organisms they produce in a similar way that the artist responds to his/her own creation.
Anyone with a molecular biology background can worry less about the details of gene regulation, differential gene expression, and protein-DNA and protein-protein interactions. By focusing instead on metaphors or analogies in art and creativity, delving in Dr. Coen's thoughts becomes an enjoyable exercise in imagination. On the other hand, readers who need more grounding in basic molecular biology may find the analogies daunting, but Dr. Coen explains the formidably complex and amazingly orchestrated system of the development of the multicellular organism very well. The reader acquires a new appreciation of development using the mind's color receptors and chemical senses.
I wonder, as a non-developmental biologist, if Dr. Coen has inadvertently left some gaping holes in trying to explain left-right asymmetry. Briefly he ascribes the establishment of this asymmetry to the intrinsic lefthandedness or righthandedness of the building blocks of life, e.g., D-amino acids and L-sugars/monosaccharides. This leaves me wondering whether so much more has been found or observed recently to provide a basis for this morphological asymmetry other than ascribing it to the intrinsic asymmetry of molecular building blocks.
This book will nonetheless stand out as a unique perspective and exposition of one of biology's most perplexing and still most interesting phenomena.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Chickens, and eggs, March 9 2002
Charming and clear introduction to the basic 'how to' of development with a lot of information about hox genes in relation to form and function, with an engaging twist, the questions of art from symmetry to creativity. This is the best short introduction to very recent findings in a field transformed in the eighties and only now becoming public knowldege.
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5.0 out of 5 stars how development works, Jan. 11 2001
This review is from: The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves (Paperback)
This book explains the essence of developmental biology in a very clear and beautiful way. I highly recommend it to anyone curious as to how an organism is constructed from a fertilized egg and its genes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! Read this one..., Dec 13 2000
By 
Michael O'Kane (Pasadena, TX USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves (Paperback)
I've read a number of popular books on genetics. If you really want to know how a gene's influence unfolds in your body, this is the definitive book to read. Nobody is better than Dr. Coen at explaining how genes work in colorful metaphors that the layperson can understand. He writes concise summaries at the end of every chapter (Why don't other popular science writers do that?) Highly recommended reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very non technical, and very instructive, Nov. 12 2000
By 
Ken Braithwaite (inkster, MI USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves (Paperback)
Embryological development has been one of the big questions in biology for a long time, and there are now solidly supported theories of how it works. There are two "popular" books -- The Triumph of the Embryo, and this one. This is very non-technical, and more entertaining. Coen uses metaphors drawn from art to explain the ideas. The central idea is the distribution of "hidden colors" through the organism at various stages; the genes react to and interpret these "colors".
One complaint: no color diagrams!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Explaining, July 16 2000
By 
G. Korthof (The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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I always had the feeling that evolution was the inventor of new things and development was a secondary problem of how to build an organism from information already present in the fertilised egg. Now I know what problems need to be solved in building a multicellular organism from a single cell in the first place. Enrico Coen magnificently explains how the head-tail, ventral-dorsal, left-right and inside-outside axis is build out of nearly nothing. The subtitle of the book is a perfect illustration of the task: How organisms make themselves (without help from outside). The problem looked only harder since the discovery of DNA : the information in DNA is one-dimensional, so how to build a 3-dimensional organism on the basis of that? No wonder that people in previous centuries saw miniature humans in egg or sperm. But since that 'solution' was refuted, the problem confronted us again: how do organisms make themselves? Enrico Coen gives deep insights with the help of metaphors derived from art and with the necessary scientific details and without confusing us with too many complexities. Coen explains the crucial role of genes without being a genetic reductionist. His examples are both from animals and plants, wich I find an advantage. This book is an achievement. The only criticism I have is that the main metaphor Coen uses is about colors and all the illustrations are in black-and-white! At least the hardback edition should have color illustrations!
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4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing gem, April 3 2000
By 
Michael L. Wyatt "mwyatt1" (Santa Maria, Ca) - See all my reviews
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This small book does nothing short of explaining the details of developmental biology in such an approachable synthesis that it should be required reading for all biology majors and their professors. Coen's understanding of his subject is obvious, but his ability to convey it is the amazing gem of this book. Success achieved!
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The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves
The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves by Enrico Coen (Paperback - March 16 2000)
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