Time, Love, Memory

by Jonathan Weiner

Book list Geneticist Seymour Benzer is little known outside his specialty, but Weiner lifts him from obscurity in this exploration of Benzer's study of the genetic contribution to behavior. The effort antedates Benzer's entry onto the molecular biological stage in the late 1940s. Weiner narrates the discovery of the gene in the 1910s by T. H. Morgan. Morgan's "Fly Room" became the generic label for the labs of geneticists, since that is where they studied their favorite organism, fruit flies. Following the discovery of DNA's double-helix structure, Benzer made a revolutionary impact by showing how genes could be split, and, further, how they could be mapped. But because Benzer was not a self-promoter and didn't write popular books, his achievements weren't widely trumpeted, as were those of James Watson, an accomplished self-promoter. Content as a pure researcher, Benzer became interested in the nature-versus-nurture question, and he and the young researchers he mentored established the principle that some behaviors in flies, such as a sense of time (they've got one), reproduction, and memory, are directed by identifiable genes. Weiner explains how these ideas enmeshed Benzer in the sociobiology controversy of the late 1970s, but more importantly, Weiner presents a lucid narrative of how genetic research is conducted. His skill at simplifying without "dumbifying" a dauntingly complex science stands Weiner in good stead with the readership of his estimable The Beak of the Finch (1994). --Gilbert Taylor

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Library Journal Armed with only a few test tubes, a light bulb, and 100 fruit flies, physicist-turned-biologist Seymour Bezmour revolutionized molecular biology. Weiner's fascinating book recounts how Bezmour's beautifully simple experiments revealed the genetic origins of human behavior. (LJ 5/15/99) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly 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 1953Äthe year Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNAÄBenzer, 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 contraptionÄa 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. (May)

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Choice Although primarily a biography of Seymour Benzer, this well-researched and entertaining book also includes the history and stories inside the field of genetics, from the time of T.R. Morgan and the chromosomal theory of inheritance to current-day techniques in molecular and behavioral genetics. Benzer is an extraordinary character who introduced genetic dissection of behavior and revolutionized behavioral science. Using this methodology, scientists start with the gene and work their way outward to determine the resulting behavior. The book outlines Benzer's scientific contributions from his work with bacteriophage to the present day. Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, spent almost five years in Benzer's lab, and describes Benzer and his colleagues as they studied behavior and eventually the discovery of genes that control such behavioral characteristics as sleep/wake cycles, courtship rituals, and learning. In addition to Benzer, the reader is introduced to legends Watson and Crick, who deciphered the structure of DNA, and many other Nobel-winning scientists. Their entertaining and educational stories will interest all students of science. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. B. W. Auclair; St. Joseph College

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Library Journal 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.ÄGregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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