You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Modern Scholar: Basics of Genetics

I recently listened to the Modern Scholar lecture course Basics of Genetics on our long trip back from Colorado. It is an entry level course on genes with a good bit of history.

Professor Betsey Dexter Dyer starts with the history of genetics as practices by humans for thousands of years. She then describes how Gregor Mendel experimented with pea plants and discovered basic principles of heredity. He discovered that the descendants of plants with one green pea and one yellow pea parent would be in a three to one distribution green to yellow. Though Mendel's work was not well known for decades, this proved to be a critical discovery of statistics and genes.

Professor Dyer gives a basic description of how genes work inside a cell, using two different colorful metaphors. I found the cookie factory metaphor to be useful, if a bit simplified and clumsy, but the monk copyist metaphor really brings out the details of copying and mistakes. I could have used a little more details about how genes are expressed or how mutations occur, but in general it was a good high level discussion.

The professor does give good examples of how genes turn into characteristics. The best examples are with mammal coat color. I now understand why all calico cats are female. I also understand the basics of the sex genes, though again I could have used more detail.

There is also a decent description of chromosomes and how they are built and how they replicate. It is difficult to picture this with just a lecture but the professor did well (and there is a course book to accompany the course, though I didn't look at it). I was surprised to learn that much of the DNA in our chromosomes is virus DNA. Professor Dyer wraps up with a short talk about the uses we can put our genetic knowledge. Genetics is still a young science: there are new discoveries all the time and there is still much to understand about how our genes work. DNA is extremely complicated, more so that simple three letter codes can express. This course is a good start in the basics. B+

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Anonymous gilmor said...

I also liked this audiobook. I am a biologist still, I mostly enjoyed Prof. Dexter Dyer's methaphores, although I agree with your critic that they are a bit simplified. I am currently reading germs, guns and steal. So I'll immediately go and read your post about it. I can see that I'll be able to find ideas for books I like in your blog. I will send you my blog in which I wrote a post re "basic genetics" but it is in Hebrew so it wouldn't do much good. sorry. In any case I am happy I found yours and thank you very much. Gilmor Keshet

3:25 AM, September 21, 2010  

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