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since The human genome has been sequenced for the first timePopular science has posited that genes serve as the blueprint for life, but the reality, experts now argue, is much more complex and beautiful.
In a new book entitled “How Life Works: A User's Guide to the New Biology“The modern concept of genes as hard and fast cogs in the machine of life is not at all consistent with what geneticists have learned in the intervening years: that life is a messy puzzle and the genetics that encode it are its mysterious and messy tools,” writes British science writer and author Philip Ball.
In the book review Published by the magazine naturewhere Paul happened to be a long-time editor, British biologist Denis Nobel Medal He quoted his fellow science writer as saying that the concept of life as a machine is a “lazy metaphor.”
Instead, both authors emphasize, there is a lot of “ambiguity and imprecision” in the way genes work. Scientists now believe, for example, that Up to 70 percent Protein domains, or chains of amino acids on the rungs of DNA, can be disordered, meaning they work in diverse and surprising ways that often confuse even expert scientists.
This disorder makes proteins “versatile communication tools,” Paul insists, but it also makes them difficult to pin down in the black-and-white thinking of genetics as a “blueprint” for life.
In one telling example, Noble pointed out that there are approximately 300 genes that indicate risk for schizophrenia, which throws water in the face of the simplistic concept of the disease. Genetic risk for mental illness. Enter the old one Nature against nature An argument, but with a twist: everything from Mother's diet To whether a specific person He lives in an area with high pollution As environmental risk factors for the disorder, you begin to see that gene expression does not have a hard and fast switch.
Concepts about biology do not need to be radically changed, as Paul and Noble emphasize. Instead, scientists need to help the public understand that genes are not just one thing or another, but ever-changing parts of what makes life so wonderful.
Ultimately, as Noble quotes Paul, “we are at the beginning of a profound rethinking of how life works.”
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