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Waking Up Reason.

WAKING UP REASON G. J. V. Nossal & Ross L. Coppel, Reshaping Life: key issues in genetic engineering, 3rd edition, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria, 2002.

'The sleep of reason produces monsters.' With these words Francisco Goya (1746-1828) could describe the end of the 20th century, so often named 'the century of molecular biology and genetic engineering'--the period in our civilisation when monsters created by crazy scientists frightened us on the cinema screens and pages of science fiction books. And today's media still terrify us daily by publicising release of genetically modified plants, the contamination of seed stocks and the fearful products of reproductive cloning. However, these monsters are in fact not created by crazy scientists but by uneducated media publishers.

Some knowledge is needed to wake up 'reason' and to scare the monsters away. But the task of understanding and studying science is not easy, especially in the fields of molecular biology and genetics where progress is faster than others. Not even half a century has passed since 1953, when the structure of DNA was discovered and the mystery of information encoded in this molecule was solved. Even willing individuals who want to keep track of events and progress don't find it easy. Science keeps its secrets well hidden. Publications which are meant to propagate the discoveries of science are legible only to initiated worshippers of genetics. Outsiders seem to have no access to the latest discoveries.

At least, that was the story until now. Reshaping Life is like a virtual key to enter the laboratory. It describes in simple and concise language the basics of molecular and cell biology, starting from the macromolecules of life. It explains all the mysterious terms and techniques and introduces vital techniques of genetic engineering. An index, glossary, list and descriptions of sub-cellular organelles are also included for quick reference. The abundant diagrams and figures help to systematise the comprehensive information. Not many books covering such a large and complex area of scientific knowledge are written in such straightforward language, explaining the principles of the 'mysterious' world of genetics and molecular biology. It is not so mysterious any more. It becomes an interesting and encouraging exploration.

The authors themselves are reason alone to pick the book off the shelf, being both locally known and internationally recognised. Professor Ross Coppel, graduate in the field of molecular biology from the University of Melbourne, is recognised around the world for his work on malaria and the virulence factors of mycobacteria. Professor Sir Gustav Nossal, world-renowned medical scientist and immunologist, helped to build the foundations of modern immunology. He was Australian of the Year in 2000, a former director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, and is distinguished by numerous other honours from eleven countries. At the same time, he is better known to many students here as Professor of Medical Biology at the University of Melbourne, and to the Australian general public through his lectures, radio and television appearances in which he propagates and explains genetics and genetic engineering. He calls for a rational view (and approach) and attempts to convince people that CDNA, ATP, GE, PCR, GMO, cloning and gene therapy are not as scary as they seem.

The final chapters of Reshaping Life discuss extensively the fears, ethical issues and considerations around genetics and genetic engineering, and the public policy implications of the last few years. The progress of DNA science is so fast, it can literally be observed from day to day. Reshaping Life is already in its third edition, fully updated and revised, so readers can be sure that the information is really up to date and has a strong emphasis on the latest ethical issues and concerns.

This book should find a place in every home library, from the high school or university student's bookshelf to the family library of the casual reader. It can be used as a resource for principles of genetic techniques and terms, as a compendium of molecular biology essence, or simply as good 'bedtime reading'. Maybe after reading it we will be less likely to dream of genetically modified monsters, of GM tomatoes or soy milk in our fridge!

This book may help make Australia consider itself again as a 'lucky country', where scientists can still work safely--in comparison to countries such as Mexico where researchers may be imprisoned for working on any genetically modified organism. Despite the fears, don't let the monsters invade your mind. Our sleeping 'reason' needs to be awakened!


Department of Genetics

University of Melbourne
COPYRIGHT 2002 University of Melbourne Postgraduate Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Szewczyk, Edyta
Publication:Traffic (Parkville)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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