Summary & Study Guide -The Gene - Lee Tang - ebook

Why Does Genetics Matter for You?The must-read summary of “The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee.Genetics is at the frontiers of science today, and its impact is often misunderstood. The public is often misled by science fictions and remains largely in the dark as to the actual consequences of advances in the biotechnology and genetic engineering industries. Studying genetics can help you understand the economic, social, and ethical implications of these technologies.This book chronicles the fascinating history of discovery in classical genetics, molecular genetics, genetic engineering, and the human genome project. It shows: How our genes and the environment define our identities and personalities; How genetic engineering technologies can be used to manufacture drugs safely; and How genetic diagnosis and gene therapies can be used to treat complex genetic diseases.Did you know? What makes you unique Why some diseases run in your family Why you look like other members of your family Around nine in ten diseases arise because of genetic defects What is the Human Genome Project and why is it important What are transgenic animals What is stem-cell technology and why are they important How do biotech companies manufacture human hormones 85-90 percent of genetic diversity occurs within races and only 7 percent between racial groups Homosexuality may be genetic Mental illnesses may be hereditary Human behavior and intelligent are influenced by your genesThis guide includes: Book Summary—The summary helps you understand the key ideas and recommendations. Online Videos—On-demand replay of public lectures, and seminars on the topics covered in the chapter.Value-added of this guide: Save time Understand key concepts quickly Expand your knowledgeGenetics can also help you understand your own health. Residing in your body, genes carry instructions to make all the proteins it needs to grow and survive. Defective genes can produce dysfunctional proteins that cause illnesses. By studying each of these genes, scientists can diagnose, treat, prevent and cure diseases caused by bad genes.Read this summary to understand the key concepts of genetics and the economic, social, and ethical implications of the genetic engineering technologies.

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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page


Books by Lee Tang



1. Evolution and Heredity: Before 1900

2. Classical Genetics: 1900-1950

3. Molecular Genetics: 1940-1970

4. The Rise of Genetic Engineering: 1970-1980

5. Human Genetics: 1970-2005

6. The Genetics of Identity and "Normalcy"

7. The Genetics of Fate and Future



About the Author

Summary &Study Guide


An Intimate History

Lee Tang

Title: Summary & Study Guide - The Gene

Subtitle: An Intimate History

Author: Lee Tang

Publisher: LMT Press (

Copyright © 2017 by Lee Tang

All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

First Edition: February 2017 

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 9780994764065 (ebook)

ISBN-13: 9781542816212 (paperback)

ISBN-10: 1542816211 (paperback)

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: The publisher and author make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of these contents and disclaim all warranties such as warranties of fitness for a particular purpose. The website addresses in the book were correct at the time going to print. However, the publisher and author are not responsible for the content of third-party websites, which are subject to change.

To my wife, Lillian, who is the source of energy and love for everything I do, and to Andrew and Amanda: watching you grow up has been a privilege.


For a complete list of books by Lee Tang and information about the author, visit


“The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Book Abstract

The book chronicles the fascinating history of discovery in classical genetics, molecular genetics, genetic engineering, and the human genome project. It shows:

How our genes and the environment define our identities and personalities;

How genetic engineering technologies can manufacture drugs safely; and

How genetic diagnosis and gene therapies can treat complex genetic diseases.


Siddhartha Mukherjee is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. A former Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, the University of Oxford (where he received a Ph.D. studying cancer-causing viruses) and from Harvard Medical School.

Important Note About This Study Guide

This guide is a summary and not a critique or a review of the book. It does not offer judgment or opinion on the content of the book. This summary may not be organized chapter-wise but is an overview of the main ideas, viewpoints, and arguments from the book. It is NOT meant to be read as a replacement of the book which it summarizes but, instead, a supplement for review of the book's main premises and to provide commentary and additional resources.


Throughout his childhood and adult life, Siddhartha Mukherjee, physician and author of "The Gene: An Intimate History", has been troubled by his family history of mental illnesses. His two uncles, Rajesh and Jagu, have suffered from mental illness, and so does his cousin Moni. If mental illness is genetic as recent studies showed, could he be a carrier as well and pass the illness to his two daughters? If his cousin's mental illness was genetic, then why has this father and sister been spared? How much of the mental illness arises from "nature" (i.e., genes) versus "nurture" (i.e., environment)?

Similar unresolved questions arose in his scientific work as a cancer biologist. Many forms of cancer arise from gene mutations that occur during a person's lifetime. Should we be concerned if we have a family history of such diseases? And could we pass these diseases to our children?

Genetic engineering has advanced so much we can treat some diseases by using gene therapies. Imagine that if technologies were available to change our genetic codes, resulting in altered identity, sexuality or behavior. Who would control such a technology, and who would ensure their safety - for our society, our children, and ourselves?












Before 1900

This chapter chronicles the fascinating history of discovery in the theories of evolutions and heredity—from early Greek philosophers to the theories developed at the end of the 19th century. It also covers the history of eugenics movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Key Concepts Covered:

Darwin's theory of evolution explains why species change.

Mendel's laws of heredity explain why species stay the same.

Eugenics movements at the turn of the 20th century were based on a faulty understanding of genetic science. They used phenotypes (physical or mental attributes) as genetic traits.


Since the earliest times, human has recognized the influence of heredity and has applied its principles to improve crops and domestic animals. In around 530 BC, Pythagoras, the Greek scholar, proposed one of the earliest and widely accepted theories to explain the similarity between parents and their children. The core of his theory was that male semen carried all the hereditary information and the mother only provided nourishment.

A century after Pythagoras's death, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, rejected that heredity was carried solely in male semen. In around 350 BC, he proposed that male semen carried the instructions to build a child while female contributed the physical material for the fetus. The transmission of heredity was essentially the transmission of information. Aristotle was wrong in his partitioning of male and female contributions into "message" and "material," but he had captured one of the essential truths about heredity.

No new ideas were introduced in the next two millennia until the 18th century.

In 1809, a French biologist named Jean-Baptiste Lamarck introduced "the inheritance of acquired characters" as a model for evolution. According to Lamarck, organisms evolve due to two forces: (1) Simple organisms emerge spontaneously and then evolve to become more complex; and (2) Organisms adapt to their environments by changing their characteristics by use and disuse. He believed giraffes developed long necks because, over many generations, they had to keep stretching their necks to reach higher foliage.

Lamarckism fell from favor after a German embryologist named August Weismann performed an experiment in 1883 showing that changes from use and disuse were not heritable. In that experiment, Weismann had cut off the tails of five generations of mice, then bred the mice to discover if the babies would be tailless. But the babies were all born with their tails intact, not even marginally shorter.


In 1958, Charles Darwin, an English naturalist, introduced the theory of evolution. According to Darwin, all species of organisms arise and develop through natural selection that increases the organism's ability to survive.

Darwin's theory of evolution was inspired by (1) the observations he had made in the five-year survey voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle (1831-1836); and (2) the work of a political economist, Thomas Robert Malthus. When Darwin read Malthus in 1838, he realized as population outgrew resources, "favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be destroyed."

By 1839, Darwin had assembled the essential outlines of his theory, but he did not publish it because he wanted to support his theory with more studies and data.

It was 20 years later when a young English naturalist named Alfred Wallace independently came up with the principle and shared it with Darwin. Stunned by the similarity between Wallace's theory and his own, Darwin dashed his own manuscript off to his old friend Charles Lyell, who advised Darwin to have both papers published simultaneously. In 1858, the theory of evolution was announced to the world by Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin.

Darwin's theory of evolution differs from Lamarck's theory in the way new species emerge. In Darwin's opinion, Giraffes hadn't arisen from straining antelopes needing to extend their necks to reach higher foliage. They had emerged because an ancestral antelope had produced a long-necked variant with the advantage of more food resources high in the treetops in times of famine.

One drawback of Darwin's theory was the lack of a compatible theory of heredity. The contemporary theory of heredity was "blending inheritance." But blending inheritance (including Darwin's own theory of pangenesis) could not account for conservation of variations in the theory of evolution. Published in 1865, Mendel's laws of heredity remained unknown to Darwin until 1990, when it was rediscovered by scientists in Europe.