The Misunderstood Gene

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Misunderstood Gene, Michel Morange presents a compact history of the science of genetics and also corrects what he sees as important misconceptions about the nature and function of genes. Morange, Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for the Study of the History of Science at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, argues that the extent of genetic determinism has been far overstated by avid researchers and popularizers of genetic science. In reality, complex layers of catalytic factors make genetic manipulation far more difficult than is commonly supposed. For example, in the case of sickle-cell anemia, the same genetic makeup can lead to very different outcomes in different geographic environs, indicating that it is a “multifactorial” and even a “multigenetic” disease. Morange points out emphatically that what genes actually do is direct the synthesis of proteins, whose functions are extremely varied and complex since they can network with other molecules within the organism. These functions are further complicated by redundant genes that can compensate for or replace other genes which are errant or missing altogether. Bottom line: genetics is more complex than some commentators would have us believe.

Morange’s account is of ambiguous accessibility. Some general readers will be thrown by the moderately extensive jargon. Well informed readers, on the other hand, may find the argument overly basic. The book is probably best suited for readers with some minimal background in biology. For such readers, the book will present an informative journey into a rapidly unfolding scientific field.