The Mysterious World of the Human Genome

Dr Frank Ryan

How could a relatively simple chemical code give rise to the complexity of a human being? How could our human genome have evolved? And how does it actually work?

Over the past 50 years we have deciphered the inner workings of the human genome. From the basic structure of DNA through to the complete sequence of the code, what first appeared to be simple is actually a complex and beautiful three-dimensional world that makes each of us who we are.

In The Mysterious World of the Human Genome acclaimed science writer Frank Ryan leads us through the most exciting scientific discoveries of the last 50 years, revealing how this science has unlocked the cure of some genetic diseases, developed the use of DNA in forensic science and paternity testing, helped us trace our ancestors and provided a definitive map for the movement of humans out of Africa. This scientific journey has had a profound impact on our understanding of the evolution of life itself, through the role of the most ancient of organisms in our basic biology all the way to the revelation that our most recent ancestor, Homo neanderthalensis, lives on in many of us.

In the ever more complicated world of the human genome, this is the first book to explain how the human genome actually works as a whole and how that knowledge will have a profound effect on our understanding of where we have come from and where we are likely to be going in the future.

First published by William Collins (HarperCollins, UK) in 2015.


“Spellbinding, intellectually adventurous, difficult to put down”

“Paleogenetics has transformed our understaning of human history; genetics as a whole is radically transforming our understanding of what makes us human, and in the newar future it will transform what it means to be human.  It is a field every thinking person should have knowledge of, and Ryan’s book is an excellent way to obtain it”.
Chemistry World, the online magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

“Frank Ryan has written the ultimate DNA memoir. In a lively, entertaining voice, Ryan takes us back to a time when no one knew where our hereditary information was kept, and then he puts us on a rollicking ride to the present. On the way, we learn about the evolution of genomes, the genomes of our ancestors, epigenetics, how DNA works, and how although most DNA doesn’t code for proteins, this does not make it junk DNA. This is a great read for both nonscientists and scientists who had their biology classes more than ten years ago.”
Marc Zimmer, author of Illuminating Disease: An Introduction to Green Fluorescent Proteins

“A first-class introduction to one of the greatest scientific projects and discoveries of our time. On this informative, balanced, and truly exciting journey, we are taken through our inner biology and on to such important topics as our relationship to other members of our family tree. Well worth reading and well worth passing on to students.”
Michael Ruse, PhD, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University, and author of Defining Darwin: Essays on the History and Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology

“Frank Ryan’s fascinating book tells the story of our genome in an elegantly straightforward way that anyone can understand. Hop on board the magical train tracks of the chromosomes and enjoy!”
Barbara Oakley, PhD, author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend and A Mind for Numbers

“An up-to-date history that will be definitive…. [Ryan] manages to make sense of a relentless stream of discoveries that have already revolutionized our picture of human evolution and which will allow us—not quite yet but any year now—to create life in the lab and cure disease…. An enlightening account of past and present knowledge and the future possibilities of human heredity.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Ryan’s casual style combined with his distinct grasp of the topics he addresses make this a valuable resource for nonscientists who are trying to gatin an understanding of a complex but important discipline.”
Library Journal

“The author does more than chronicling the science surrounding genome study, he reveals the way in which the genome works and how it evolves, giving us a broad window into nature’s greatest wonders…The book is nothing short of a powerful explanation of where we come from and a quest to examine where we are going. I think that Frank Ryan will soon join the ranks of those about whom he writes and will become part of a revaluation that moves science forward”.
San Francisco Book Review

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