Saturday, June 21, 2014

Thoughts on Dyer's Basics of Genetics: lots of real-world examples help getting up to speed quickly

Overall I found this book a good read that gives one a sense of the basics of genetics. I read it as an instructor of an upper level course in bioinformatics searching for an easy-to-read textbook that can provide students with physical science and computer science backgrounds a quick grasp of the fundamentals of genetics so that we can talk about bioinformatics. In this regard I think it is successful. It is very easy-to-read and has a lot of real world examples that are immediately gripping. For instance there is a discussion of Mendelian inheritance that talks about the coloration of plants and animals, explaining how one can see the Mendelian ratios in corn kernels at the supermarket and also there is an in depth discussion of the melanin pathway in mammals and how this becomes much more complicated in birds, which require additional pathways and even nanoscale-type structures to dictate color. Using coloration is an easy to grasp thing for people. The coloration example even extends to talking about viruses and transposons and how they can be manifest particularly in an unusual corn kernel "splotching" that one might rarely see. These real world examples provide a simple way for people to grasp genetics. There are many nice historical anecdotes about Mendel, Darwin, Watson and a number of the other founders of genetics, which are easy and engaging. My one gripe with the book is that some of the facts are often a little off. For instance the human genome is said to contain 10 percent coding regions. I think this is a little off actually by an order of magnitude and should be revised downwards. There are also a number of other facts that need to be somewhat fixed. However, overall I found the book a good read for an intro book and would recommend it.

The Basics of Genetics
by Betsey Dexter Dyer