Monday, June 24, 2013

ReView of EPIGENETICS: HOW ENVIRONMENT SHAPES OUR GENES by Richard C. Francis



Genre: NonFiction/Science
Format: Paperback
Length: 256 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
First Published: 2012




I read this book to brush up on my favorite science biology topic, Epigenetics.  It's by far the most spectacular field of science, probably after Immunology, in my opinion anyway.  It's meant to be for the layman person, but there are definitely some parts of the book that might fly past you if you are not of a science or biology background.  Nevertheless, if you want to know what Epigenetics is all about this is the book you can to start with.

"The burgeoning new science of epigenetics offers a cornucopia of insights some comforting, some frightening.  For example, the male fetus may be especially vulnerable to certain common chemicals in our environment, in ways that damage not only his own sperm but also the sperm of his sons.  And it's epigenetics that causes identical twins to vary widely in their susceptibility to dementia and cancer.  But here's the good news: unlike mutations, epigenetic effects are reversible.  Indeed, epigenetic engineering is the future of medicine." (GoodReads)

This book actually starts off a little dry for someone with a biology background.  A lot of definitions; epigenetics, DNA, RNA, proteins, histones, transcription, translation.  It wasn't actually until later in the book, past the half-way point that I actually got more intrigued.  I debated several times putting it down because it was so redundantly basic.  On the other hand, if you do not have a biology background, and you're interested in knowing these things, this book will be perfect in the first half or so.

As the book unfolds into the later chapters, the subject of epigenetic gene regulation of cancer cells is by far the most fascinating subject of this book.  Everything in the first part of the book will lead you to the understanding of this topic.  For a long time now, the study of cancer has solely focused on mutations of specific genes that appear to be located in cancer tumors.  Later, in more recent years, cancer research has been aimed at epigenetic therapy, and as a result research on epigenetic gene regulation of cancer tumor cells.

So if you aren't familiar with the subject, this is a great book to introduce you to the following ways cancer tumor cells are epigenetically regulated: DNA methylation of certain oncogenes (aka cancer genes), Histone modifications, and microRNA epigenetic regulation-also known as RNA interferences.  If you have no idea what these mean, this book is a great introduction to these pathways of epigenetic regulation and how they are being studied to understand epigenetic therapies for cancer patients.  In many cases, the causal effects of cancer can be reveresed because epigenetic regulation is also a reversal process.  So in the cases where the genes themselves aren't mutated, but it is the epigenetic regulation leading to the tumor, then epigenetic therapy can be of great influence and treatment.

This is a great introductory book to epigenetics for those of you who want to know more about the subject.  It is also a great book to also those of you who have a background in biology because it does follow up with some really good research and it does give an overview of some biological concepts such as X-Chromosome silencing, Developmental biology, and also animal studies used for epigenetic research - like the ones done on sea urchins.







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