A working draft of the human genome was published in 2000. Since then, countless advances have been made in genomics research — from work that has led to the creation of more targeted drugs, to the anticipated arrival of the $1,000 genome. In that time, an entire generation of budding scientists has had its interests piqued by intriguing discoveries, and a new generation of consumers has begun to request genetic tests.
Biochemist and science journalist Elizabeth Finkel explores this new standard of science in her book, The Genome Generation. "This new universe is full of weird and wonderful stuff. Many of our scientific dogmas have toppled," Finkel writes. "We can't easily define a gene anymore; we admit most of our genome is doing stuff akin to a high-level software program that we have yet to decode."
Such is the setting for her book, in which she explores how the work being done in genomics has changed our understanding of what are typically considered the very basic of concepts — what a gene is, whether environment affects a person's development, and how important ancestry is to a person's health.
Finkel's book is meant to appeal to a wide audience. Though this is sometimes a delicate balance to strike, she seems to get just the right combination of explanation and technical jargon. It is accessible to many, but remains interesting for those who know a bit more than the basics. She uses clever metaphors to explain some of the more esoteric points of the science, without diminishing those concepts or oversimplifying them.
There's also a bit of wonder in Finkel's tone, a bit of "Isn't-this-cool!" enthusiasm that makes it hard for the reader not to share in that excitement. Some of the claims she makes about the future of genomics are perhaps grandiose, but not in a way that makes the reader dismiss her.
The point this book makes very clear is that while there is still much to learn when it comes to genomics, researchers have already come far. "There is a sense that a brave new world is upon us," Finkel writes. "The genome generation is yet to witness the final fallout of the reading of genomes. There are far more questions than answers. But as Aristotle said, 'To know what to ask is already to know half.'" The work that has yet to be done is sure to be filled with exciting discoveries alongside the mundane. And researchers — no matter how bogged down in the details of their own work — shouldn't lose sight of the bigger, cooler picture.