Every time you look in the mirror you see a mystery of biology. Each cell in your body carries exactly the same genetic code, and yet you don’t have teeth growing out of your eyeballs and you never get toenails coming out of your liver. How can one blueprint lead to so many different final structures?
DNA. Sometimes, when you read about biology, you could be forgiven for thinking that those three letters explain everything. But they don’t. We talk about DNA as if it’s a template, like a mould for a car part in a factory. In the factory, molten metal or plastic gets poured into the mould thousands of times and, unless something goes wrong in the process, out pop thousands of identical car parts.
But DNA isn’t really like that. It’s more like a script. Think of Romeo and Juliet, for example. In 1936 George Cukor directed Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in a film version. Sixty years later Baz Luhrmann directed Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in another movie version of this play. Both productions used Shakespeare’s script, yet the two movies are entirely different. Identical starting points, different outcomes.
That’s what happens when cells read the genetic code that’s in DNA. The same script can result in different productions.
When biologists see an example of this they call it epigenetics. It’s the fastest moving field in modern biology, yet very little has been written on this for a general readership. Now is the perfect time for such a book – not only do we know many examples of epigenetics in action, we’re finally starting to understand the mechanisms of how it works. We can pinpoint the tiny changes to DNA that control all the fine details of how our bodies behave.
And epigenetics doesn’t just govern the identity of the cells in out body. It’s all around us. This book will also explore and explain the following topics:
Nessa Carey has a PhD in virology from the University of Edinburgh and has had successful careers in both the university and commercial settings. She was a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College School of Medicine in London, where she led a research team investigating a genetic disorder that gets worse and worse as it passes down through the generations in an affected family. For nearly ten years she has worked in the biotech industry, trying to take basic science discoveries and turn them into new treatments for human diseases. Over the last four years she has been working with some of the...
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