Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters


Ridley takes one gene at a time and makes it a chapter - diving into how genes work and affect is

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Key Takeaways

  1. Genome contains information from both our recent and far distant past. It has clues to questions that help highlight why we do certain things and have certain characteristics - an autobiography of our species 
  2. Life is a slippery term to try to pin down but it requires the ability to replicate and the ability to create order 
    1. A reduction in entropy
  3. Shannon’s Information Theory is more helpful for understanding life than mountains of knowledge from biology and chemistry 
    1. The importance of being multidisciplinary
  4. Genes contain the recipe for both anatomy and behavior. The code for how to make proteins which enable and allow for nearly everything that happens in the human body
  5. The discovery by Watson and Crick of the double helix DNA structure and that it was the language by which genes express themselves to form proteins was the most momentous scientific discovery of the 20th century, maybe the whole millennium 
  6. Intelligence has a large component which is inherited but it is important to remember that heritability does not mean immutability. 
  7. Our genes contain a history of infectious disease showing us our ancestors survived or were able to cope with the disease better than others
  8. Our genes are linked filled with parasitic clusters of DNA - sometimes they have disastrous consequences but most often they have no noticeable impact
  9. Lower levels of serotonin are associated with alphas, but this is an effect, not a cause. The alpha's view of themselves and their position in the pack raises or lowers their serotonin levels. Leaders are in fact calmer, less aggressive than lower-status people in the same group. They tend to be better at reconciliation and remaining calm under pressure 
  10. Although genes have a tremendous impact on us, behavior is a great determinant as well. Behavior impacts genes as much as genes impact behavior. The psychological drives the physical. Hormones and chemical makeup changes based on how much control you have in your life, your status and stress, and much more 
  11. An ability to metabolize alcohol it’s linked to ancestors in regions that had consistently clean drinking water such as Native Americans. European's ancestors lived in dirty cities, where the only safe liquids were fermented or boiled and therefore they had to develop the ability to metabolize alcohol relatively quickly.
  12. People who have the ability to digest milk share one common ancestral similarity - their ancestors herded cows and sheep. This is a fascinating discovery that shows how cultural changes (a pastoral lifestyle) lead to evolutionary changes the genetic ability to digest lactose
  13. Instinct is genetically determined behavior whereas learning is behavior modified by experience. Learning slowly gives way to instinct 
  14. Genetic diagnosis followed by conventional treatment is likely genetics’ biggest boom to medicine today 
  15. It is so important to note that genetic determinism is not fatalism. You may be predisposed today some condition or intuition, but it does not mean you have no say 

What I got out of it

  1. Deep dive into how the genome works - some interesting mechanical / logistical things that I hadn't heard of before

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