Tag Archives: Genetics

Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley


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

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

The Sports Gene by David Epstein


  1. A very intriguing book which describes real-world situations meant to bring into the light the very old old question of nature vs. nurture. The athletes he covers such as Michael Phelps, Serena Williams and Usain Bolt are extremely successful in their sports but are they natural athletic “freaks” or are they simply athletic people who have honed their skills to the highest level?
Key Takeaways
  1. Certain segments of the population have genetic advantages because of their ancestry. For example, more hemoglobin lets some train and recover faster, have better bodies and proportioned limbs for their sport, etc.
    • Just because people have those advantages does not mean they will be great, simply that they could have the tools to reach greatness
  2. Alaskan mamulets that run the Iditatarod are in fact a completely new breed. They train and are able to get in shape while training. No need to stop and recover. Unbelievable
  3. Average mile run time for the average student at St. Patrick’s high school in Kenya is around 5:30. The population in this area is extremely gifted naturally for this sport
  4. Stefan Holm is a Swedish high jumper who had trained his whole life and in this book is compared to Donald Thomas who trained for about a year and won the World Championships. Thomas had an unusually elastic achilles tendon which catapulted him like few others could. Great example of the natural talents some have.
  5. Best athletes don’t really have better reaction times, they can take extremely small amounts of data and make very educated guesses. Albert Pujols can predict almost exactly where the pitch is going to be as it is leaving the pitcher’s hand. However, when Jenny Finch, a gold medalist women’s softball pitcher, pitched at him he could not hit a single ball. It’s not that she was necessarily a better pitcher, he just did not have a data set to predict where her pitches were going to be. Alex Rodriguez would not step up to the plate against her for fear of being embarrassed
  6. 17% of men 7ft or taller are in the NBA. NBA players have much longer arms than the general population, with black NBA players having even longer arms
  7. Yao Ming was bred to be a great basketball player. His mom and dad were the tallest people in China and were both on the national team and were “brought together” to have Yao
  8. MLB player’s visual acuity is close to the theoretical limit of human eyesight
What I got out of it
  1. While some people definitely have genetic predispositions which give them natural advantages over others, it still takes incredible determination and commitment to turn these skills world-class. It is somewhat frustrating though to hear how in one year Thomas was able to beat Holm in the high jump. Holm was solely dedicated to this sport for his entire life but still could not match Thomas’ natural skills.