Cover image for Jacob's ladder : the history of the human genome
Jacob's ladder : the history of the human genome
Gee, Henry.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., [2004]

Physical Description:
xvi, 272 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH437 .G44 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Jacob's Ladder delivers a remarkably lucid explanation of what the sequencing of the human genome really tells us. Decoding the sequence, evolutionary biologist Henry Gee shows, is just the beginning: seeing the letters and words. The next frontier is in understanding snatches of conversation between genes--how they interact to direct the growth of an organism. Gee takes us into the heart of that conversation, illuminating how genes govern a single egg cell's miraculous transformation into a human being, and how they continue to direct that person's day-by-day development throughout a lifetime.Gee tells the story of what we know about the genome today and what we are likely to discover tomorrow. As our knowledge advances, we will be able to direct with increasing authority the conversations between genes: not only performing medical interventions but also creating whole scripts directing birth, ancestry, and diversity in a brave new world.

Author Notes

Henry Gee, former Regents Professor at UCLA, is a science writer for Nature. He lives in London.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In this history of the biology of embryonic development and variation, Gee guards against the tendency to dismiss as worthless theories that preceded the genetics revolution. Although they lack contemporary scientific application, they are nevertheless useful in framing the uncertainties about how a fertilized egg develops. Kicking off with Aristotle's answer to the question of where babies come from, Gee tracks the stride made by Elizabethan William Harvey and the pioneers of the microscope in locating their origin in the union of sperm and ovum. To Harvey's successors (dramatist Goethe, surprisingly, among them) was left the work of determining the content of sperm and ovum and how it produces the variations in form exhibited by individuals and species--still the fundamental frontier of research. Gee describes the experiments that established genetics and identified DNA as the carrier molecule of biological information. A sophisticated, fluid presentation that leaves general readers knowledgeable about the genome's past and positioned to make sense of the future of genetic engineering. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

So we've sequenced the human genome. Now what? Gee, a writer for Nature and former professor at UCLA, tackles this question in his examination of how nature generates "form from the formless." Gee takes his title seriously, describing not only the history of human understanding of biology, but also the history of the evolution of the genome itself. Stories of homunculi and Darwin's legendary journey to the Gal pagos lead seamlessly into discussions of the first life to appear on earth. Gee uses comparative genomics to draw a vivid history of the evolution of life, tying together the usually distinct fields of embryology, genetics and evolution. The crowning gem of this work is the last section on the new network theory of genomics. Gee draws the reader into the new field of computational biology and shows that having the sequence of the human genome is just the beginning. By modeling how the thousands of genes act on and with each other, we can finally begin to answer questions like, where do new species come from? How does a single egg turn into a human baby? How does natural selection affect the genome? Why is there any variation at all? The author knows the details of molecular biology, and he's not afraid to use them. The text is littered with terms like "blastocyst," "T4 bacteriophage" and "Hox genes," though all are carefully defined. Because of this level of sophistication, this fine book is difficult enough to be more suitable for the amateur scientist than for the dabbler. 25 illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Jill Grinberg. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This chronicle records how our understanding of human knowledge has escalated from ancient times to the present. Noted English paleontologist Gee meticulously describes the historic assumptions of how the miracle of life took place. With the advance of science, the role of chromosomes eliminated earlier theories of pangenesis and preformation and prepared the path to a more modern molecular view of development. In the book's second half, Gee commences with the Watson-Crick revelation on DNA structure and its significance. In humans, DNA contains much seemingly useless debris reflecting both evolutionary modifications and viral insertions. Making sense of this superfluous DNA requires regulators and repressors to respond to environmental stimuli and orchestrate the correct expression of gene groups, permitting the formless zygote to be transformed into the functioning embryo. In this ascent up the ladder of knowledge, one of the higher rungs deals with the new network theory of genomics and how this mass of selected data is coordinated and expressed. This remarkable compilation offers tantalizing suppositions of what future discoveries will reveal about the genomic potential; suitable for academic libraries.-Rita Hoots, Woodland Coll., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.