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Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins, Peoples & Disease
  1. D M Swallow

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    Edited by M A Jobling, M E Hurles, C Tyler-Smith. Garland Science, 2003, £35.00, pp 458. ISBN 9-780815-341857

    With the near completion of the human genome sequence, and the exponential increase in associated information on inter-individual variability, there are enormous opportunities for using these data. Evolutionary geneticists are attempting to understand our origins and revisit the questions of the relative role of selection and drift. For medical geneticists, the search is now on for the genetic causes of complex disease, while forensic science is increasingly exploiting our interindividual differences to solve crimes. All these topics are inextricably linked. This super textbook covers almost everything an undergraduate student in human genetics would need as a basis for any of these areas, but will in fact have a much wider readership. It starts as far back as the structure of DNA, chromosome structure, meiosis, mitosis, and so on, while covering in some depth anthropological and archaeological evidence for the origins of modern humans, the extent and nature of genomic variation, and the principles of human population genetics. It explains clearly how the genome can be considered in blocks, owing to the pattern of historic and prehistoric recombinations and that these pieces of DNA, as well as the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA, track back to many ancestors who may have lived in different parts of the world.

    This publication is timely, up to date, and has enormous and comprehensive coverage, without being too heavy to carry or costing too much. It is more than just a textbook, because, by using opinion boxes, it discusses contentious and problem issues. Thus as well as providing factual information, the book will stimulate the undergraduate to appraise observations and their interpretation critically. An important example is the discussion of error rates, and the potential impact of errors on interpretation of data. It answers questions that many of us get asked by our non-genetics friends, such as what exactly do we mean when we say that there is 1–2% sequence difference between humans and chimpanzees? How much do the different population groups of the world differ and is the term race meaningful? Clearly, as far as humans are concerned, it is not.

    The book will also serve as a very useful introduction to molecular and population genetics for epidemiologists, anthropologists, and others who are new (or indeed not so new) to the field. It contains a wealth of information relevant for medical geneticists who are embarking on association studies. This, for example, includes the effects of selection and the effects of population admixture.

    The book is very well laid out, with chapters grouped in six main sections, each of which aims to answer a question (Why study evolutionary genetics? How do we study genome diversity? How do we interpret genetic variation? Where and when did humans originate? How did humans colonise the world? How is an evolutionary perspective helpful?) There is a good index and glossary, so that it is easy to look things up, and there are extensive references at the end of each chapter and recommendations for further reading. Indeed there are but few short-comings. The figures and tables, which are on the one hand very useful and informative, do also have some weaknesses. Whether it is my failing eyesight or heterozygous manifestation of a colour vision anomaly, I often found the blue grey and black shadings and characters extremely difficult to distinguish. The figure legends could also sometimes have been more informative. However Mark Jobling and colleagues are to be congratulated—this book is a good buy, an excellent read, and is to be strongly recommended.