Metaphors and Meanings

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Science  16 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5507, pp. 1155
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5507.1155f

The sequencing of the human genome affects how we think about ourselves. Pääbo (p. 1219) points out that comparisons between our genome and those of other mammals (particularly the great apes) will reveal how similar we are to the rest of life on Earth. And, the small differences between our genome and those of other animals will provide insights into what makes us uniquely human.

Recent books have already begun to chronicle the impact of genome sequencing, and three have been reviewed in this issue. Kay has examined how the metaphors of information, language, and code influenced the research program and claims of molecular biology. In his book review, Lewontin (p. 1263) believes biologists should not be dissuaded by her poststructuralist terminology because she effectively demonstrates why the metaphors can be misleading. Keller has used a sketch of the history of 20th-century genetics to argue that the “primacy of the gene” is now in crisis. Carroll's review (p. 1264) finds her conclusions unconvincing, in part because they do not consider recent developments such as the growing success of genetic analyses of complex traits. The race for the genome itself provides some insight into the human condition, and a book by Davies traces the efforts to sequence the human genome from their beginnings in the mid-1980s to the June 2000 finish. Brenner's review (p. 1265) offers his own perspective on these stories of the science, politics, and people drawn into the race.

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