by Jonathan Weiner
: Seymour Benzer is not likely to be mentioned by members of the general public as being among the great scientists of the 20th century, but his work revolutionized molecular biology as much as anybody's. After contributing to the proof of a genetic basis for physical inheritance, Benzer was among a very few scientists who began wondering if there might not be a biological explanation for behavior as well. The idea was controversial and unpopular in post-World War II America, but the results of Benzer's brilliant experiments involving fruit flies could not be denied. Weiner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch (LJ 5/15/94), focuses on Benzer's research as a vehicle for exploring the amazing discoveries in the field and how profoundly they have altered how we view ourselves, our instincts, and our actions. Weiner spent hundreds of hours interviewing Benzer and many of his colleagues. In this age of cloning, DNA fingerprinting, and genetic engineering, Weiner's personal approach to a sometimes coldly impersonal subject humanizes the scientific process. Recommended for all libraries.
Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, FL Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms
: From the winner of the 1995 Pulitzer for nonfiction (for The Beak of the Finch) comes a vigorously engrossing scientific biography that brings out from the shadows one of the unsung pioneers of molecular biology: brash, eccentric, Brooklyn-born California Institute of Technology physicist-turned-biologist Seymour Benzer. In 1953--the year Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA--Benzer, then at Purdue, invented a way to use viral DNA to map the interior of a gene. Benzer's mapping techniques would help Crick crack the genetic code in the early 1960s. Forsaking viruses and E. coli bacteria for the fruit fly, in the mid-1960s, Benzer began tracking tiny genetic mutations in scores of generations passing through his contraption--a maze of test-tube tunnels with a light source to which the flies instinctively gravitated. With his wife, neuropathologist Carol Miller, Benzer discovered that the fly brain and the human brain surprisingly share nearly identical genetic sequences. Today their fellow scientists, using mutant fruit flies or mice, attempt to throw light on the genetic coding of memory, learning, courtship, sex assignment, disease and aging. An unresolved question hangs over this enterprise: Will solid links between genes and human behavior ever be established? Weiner answers with a cautious "yes" in this elegantly written scientific detective story told with panache and great lucidity. Benzer, a free spirit with a taste for crashing Hollywood funerals and eating strange food (filet of snake, crocodile tail), may lack the charisma of his Caltech colleague, the late physicist Richard Feynman, but, through Weiner's absorbing presentation, his unorthodox ways in and out of the laboratory will grow on readers. 50 illustrations. Agent, Victoria Pryor. BOMC dual main selection; first serial to the New Yorker.
Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms