The Biochemistry of Genetics

J. B. S. Haldane

George Allen and Unwin: London, 1954.

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This book is emphatically not a textbook. It is intended to summarize some of the main facts concerning a branch of science which is growing so rapidly that, had the book been up to date when it was written, it would have been out of date at the time of publication. I have chosen certain examples from the mass of published work, and doubtless neglected others of equal or greater importance, sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through faulty judgement. The only alternative would have been to fill several volumes. Nevertheless, there may be some advantage in trying to survey the whole field of the biochemical genetics of unicellular organisms, fungi, higher plants, and animals in a short book. Each group is well adapted for the study of some topics, and ill adapted for that of others. So a bird’s eye view may gain in balance what it lacks in precision.

A few topics are in such a state of flux that I have considered it useless to give more than a small selection from the mass of apparently conflicting data, and even so may have added to the confusion by my discussions of them. These are the induction of mutation, the problem of multiple allelomorphism, and the problem of training and its transfer from one cell, or even one higher plant or animal, to another. The last of these problems has, unfortunately, been mixed up with politics in recent years. But in England we are lucky in having Hinshelwood and his colleagues, who share many, but not all, the views of Lysenko on this matter, and whose work can be appraised without linguistic difficulties on the one hand, or extraneous emotion on the other.

The book is based on lectures given in the Department of Biochemistry, University College, London, in 1950 and 1952. It is thus aimed at biochemists rather than geneticists, and I fear that most geneticists who may wish to read it will require an elementary textbook of biochemistry to assist them.