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World Book Day 2021

When we read, we learn; we discover. Whether we find out about a new scientific concept or a fictional alternative universe, we are always learning and discovering.

In celebration of World Book Day on Thursday 4th March 2021, we take a look at some of the insightful and thought-provoking books within the genomics space.

The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey (2011)

For decades our research focus was specifically on exploring variation within the coding regions of the genome. In recent years, the field of epigenetics has rapidly evolved and demonstrated the role of epigenetic modifications in health and disease. In this book, authored by biologist and visiting Professor at Imperial College London, Nessa Carey, the foundations of epigenetics and how it is rewriting our understanding of genetics and disease are explored. From why identical twins aren’t actually identical to why Audrey Hepburn has such a delicate frame – this book delves into the complexities of epigenetics and how understanding these modifications will help understand disease. It is an excellent summary of the past, present and optimistic future of the field and is largely accessible to a wide audience.

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)

Since its initial release in 1976, The Selfish Gene is still one of the most popular science books. This book holds a gene-centric view of evolution using the term ‘selfish gene’ to explain how genes strive for immorality with individuals and species merely vehicles in that quest. Despite his controversial remarks, Richard Dawkins (Ethologist and Evolutionary Biologist) provides insights in a technically rigorous way while avoiding technical jargon. He explores themes of altruism, evolutionary consequences and kin selection in an exciting and engaging manner. In a public poll in 2017, the book was regarded as the most influential science book.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

Although this is a fictional book, it was one I read during the first lockdown and was immediately hooked! The story follows Don Tillman a 39-year-old geneticist with Asperger’s Syndrome who has never had a second date. In the novel, Tillman devises a scientific test to help him find a partner (which made me think about Digid8 – the genetic-based dating app that was created by scientists at Harvard). Written by Australian novelist and data modeller, Graeme Simision, this book provides a subtle but interesting cross over between genetics and everyday life. Interestingly, it is the only novel in Bill Gates’ Six Books I’d Recommend.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

Whilst some criticism exists around this book, I think the story of Henrietta Lacks is important. So, whether you read this book, or you read around elsewhere – knowing the events that occurred is what matters. Science writer, Rebecca Skloot, tells the untold story of mother and tobacco farmer, Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells unwittingly became the source of the HeLa cell line. Taken without her consent, these cancer cells have become a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. While still used today, the Lacks family for decades went without compensation and without education – and for many members, a struggle to foot their own medical bills.

This event has raised concerns about privacy and patients’ rights and has contributed to lack of trust towards healthcare systems amongst the Black community. Late last year, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for the first time, aimed to make financial reparations to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation for the continuing experimental use of HeLa cells.

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer (2018)

This novel presents a history of our understanding of heredity. Written by The New York Times columnist, Carl Zimmer, history is used to offer a rigorous introduction into the basics of genetics and developmental biology. The book provides a perspective on what we pass along from generation to generation, showcasing the promise and potential dangers of genetics and heredity. Zimmer offers personal anecdotes (having his own genome sequenced), rejects misconceptions about science and discusses the biological basis of race.

More Than You Can Handle by Miguel Sancho (2021)

This recently published book follows a family’s struggle with their son’s rare disease – Chronic Granulomatous Disease – and the umbilical cord blood transplant that cured him. The quest for many rare disease patients is long and devastating, and this novel demonstrates the value of cutting-edge modern medicine in saving a child from a deadly immune deficiency. Written by Emmy Award-winning television producer, Miguel Sancho, this harrowing and medically enthralling story emphasises the plight of rare disease patients and their families, and the importance of research.

Image credit: By freepik

More on these topics

Epigenetics / Evolution / Gene / Rare Diseases