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The Compatibility Gene takes readers on a global journey of discovery spanning 60 years involving scores of scientists and encompassing the history of transplants and immunology That journey has revealed astonishing links between who we are as individuals and our never ceasing struggle to survive disease Most of the 25000 genes we possess are the same for all of us Compatibility genes are those that vary most from person to person and give each of us a uniue molecular signature These genes determine both the extent to which we are susceptible to a vast range of illnesses and the different ways each of us fights disease In The Compatibility Gene distinguished immunologist Daniel Davis draws on new research to suggest a number of even fascinating and controversial conclusions about compatibility genes that we find others or less sexy according to their compatibility genes dating services are starting to match people in this way; that the wiring between some neurons is kept or broken according to the activity of compatibility genes; and that compatibility genes influence the chances of a couple having a successful pregnancy Profoundly personal life forming and life changing decisions appear to be governed by the actions of a few inherited genes Most importantly Davis proposes that because we each respond slightly differently to any particular disease in the not too distant future vaccines and other medications may be tailored to match our compatibility genes a revolutionary breakthrough in the fight against disease Including vivid portraits of the scientists who worked tirelessly to unlock the secrets of compatibility genes as well as patients who survived disease due to lucky genetic inheritances The Compatibility Gene explains an aspect of human biology that will undoubtedly have profound impacts on medical practice in the 21st Century


10 thoughts on “The Compatibility Gene

  1. says:

    I read this in a bit of a piecemeal fashion due to holidays so my impressions of it are probably a little scattered than usual It’s basically a book which combines immunology and genetics and even some neurology to discuss the way certain genes work in humans Since that’s right up my street I found this fascinating although I found some chapters really slow goingOne thing I’m not 100% a fan of is the personal details about some of the scientists because it’s not really relevant Whether a female scientist prioritises children or her career doesn’t have any effect on the importance of her findings and as a way of identifying motives for studying stuff it’s pretty weak Not everything has a personal connectionThe main thing I’m taking away from this book is that we still don’t know half there is to know about the immune system about genetics about our own bodies If that doesn’t speak to the importance of such research I don’t know what doesDid you know that dogs have a sexually transmitted cancer? Not just an oncovirus like HPV but a contagious cancerOriginally posted here Featuring the author dropping by to let me know that he's not being sexist by focusing on the fact that the female scientists he mentions don't have families but never replying when I asked why he didn't then make a big thing of it for male scientists tooETA Now featuring the author replying some although he mostly took it to twitter where he accused me of having an agenda


  2. says:

    A short compelling look at the immune system's major histocompatibility complex Davis effectively explains how the immune system recognises 'self' and 'non self' and thus effectively identifies disease within the body or on occasion fails to He also looks at the other ways that the 'compatibility genes' affect our body; for instance there is an interesting section on the impact of the immune system on pregnancy He also details the major scientific achievements that led to these discoveries I could have done with slightly fewer appellations of 'hero' to the admittedly tireless and brilliant scientists of his narrative but overall it was an enjoyable and informative read


  3. says:

    Part two entitled The Frontier of Compatibility Gene Research saved this book for me Part one and part three were terrible Part one comprised a lot of back story on the who's who of this particular gene research I couldn't care less who did it or how they got there Tell me what the research results were and how it impacts society Part three was eually frustrating as it was supposed to be the popular science connection to our world and how this impact things we might be interested in such as sexual selection and pregnancy Which could have been interesting execpt that it wasn't so I dare to fault the author but perhaps this section was not fleshed out because there were not enough strong associations and so it was kind of a glimpse into what might be but isn't yet sound Anyway worth the read for part two Probably readable in the bookstore just that section if you have bit of time


  4. says:

    Some of the best popular science books tell us as much about the people as the science and that is the approach taken by Daniel Davis In exploring the ‘compatibility gene’ or accurately the ‘compatibility genes’ – I don’t know why it’s singular in the title He takes us on a voyage of discovery through the key steps to identifying the small group of genes that seem to contribute to making that individual or less compatible with other people whether on the level of transplants or sexual compatibility taking in our growing understanding of the immune system along the wayIt probably helps that Davis is a practising scientist in the field – the director of research at the University of Manchester’s Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research and a visiting professor at Imperial College London Often frankly discovering the book is by a working scientist can mean turgid text or an inability to explain the science in a way the general reader can understand but Davis writes fluently and often beautifully as much in love with the history of his trade as the scientific breakthroughs he coversA good example of the way he brings a topic to life is the first subject to come under his spotlight the Nobel Prize winning Peter Medawar and his colleagues several of whom also get a good biographical introduction I’ve read before about Medawar’s work on rejection and compatibility in transplants but in Davis’ hands it’s almost as if you are talking to Medawar about his life and achievements giving a real insight into the bumpy process of scientific discoveryThe book divides into three looking at the scientific revolution in compatibility the frontier of compatibility and the ‘overarching system’ which includes the near notorious T shirt sniffing research and the remarkable suggestion that a couple having the right mix of compatibility genes can enhance their ability to have children All in all there’s a good mix of the relatively familiar and the surprising new all handled in Davis’ measured likeable phrasingI only really have two small niggles I’ve never written a review yet without any One is that I think Davis is almost too close to the subject and as a result perhaps gives it of a sense of importance than it deserves Of course from a medical viewpoint this is important work but the way he seems to put it up there with the work of Newton Darwin and Einstein perhaps overinflates its importance The other slight problem I have is that for me there is rather too much biography and not uite enough science It’s interesting that the lead endorsement in the press release is by Bill Bryson It sounds terrible but I’m only really interested in the biographies of a handful of key scientists and that apart I’d rather just have a uick sketch and get into the science in a bit depth – but I appreciate that this might be a very different opinion from that of many would be readersSo don’t be put off by that textbook like low key cover – this is a really interesting read about a fascinating area of genetics and medicine Recommended


  5. says:

    A little cheesy and dramatic but really interesting


  6. says:

    This book by immunologist Daniel Davis concerns the Major Histocompatibility Complex genes MHC; also known by the synonym HLA in humans This is what Davis means by his phrase “compatibility genes” These genes code for cell surface proteins that are key to how the adaptive immune system distinguishes between self and non self What’s because of an extremely high degree of variability ie polymorphism in these genes across populations they also determine the success of organ transplants To illustrate the extent of this polymorphism Davis points out that “ 268000 people from across the UK are represented by 119000 different combinations of compatibility genes” adding that this is probably an underestimate of the true extent of genetic diversityI found the book frustrating at times but interesting all the same As far as the history goes of uncovering the mysteries of the MHC genes Davis does a good job of bringing to life some of the key scientists involved Unfortunately to my mind he doesn’t do so well in explaining the science which he seems to dumb down in too many places For example in describing what a protein is he writes that it is “a long chains of atoms connected together in a string” and fails to mention that a protein is built up from amino acids which is a obvious way of defining a protein even to a non scientist Something that really grated with me was Davis’s use of the phrase “compatibility genes” when referring to the MHC genes a term he seems to have devised for this book but which as far as I know is not used by other scientists researching this field To make matters worse and presumably to make it punchier the title of the book uses the singular form ie “ the compatibility gene” which suggests that a single gene is involved which is not the case But that’s enough of the negatives On the positive side I was impressed that Davis had personally interviewed a good number of scientists when authoring this account Conseuently the pen portraits that he includes undoubtedly contain information not likely to be found elsewhere For example from interviewing Eric Schadt a leading light in genomics I learned that he was the son of Christian parents who considered a college education to be worthless to the point that when Schadt left the US Air Force to attend college his father reckoned he must have become possessed by the devil and should never again return home Incredible I thought that such attitudes persisted into the late 20th century One of the best chapters for me examined the ways that sense can be made of genetic information in the development of new medicines It’s been known for many years that most diseases and conditions are not caused by a single gene but rather result from many genes acting in concert Therefore there is much interest in studying interactions between genes which has prompted a lot of research into these relationships But here Davis retells a parable there was once a kingdom that had a map of the land but it wasn’t considered sufficiently informative The call went out for a better map one that measured and recorded the land down to the last minute detail The result was a perfect map but it proved totally useless because it was as big as the kingdom itself The message here is that it is fine to collect and information but very important to sift through it to determine what is important and what isn’t otherwise we end up crushed under a mountain of data but none the wiser about what it meansIn this chapter Davis also ponders how a scientist can select a field to research that is likely to yield results that are both new and important As he points out “ My view is that since the very essence of discovery is that nobody predicted it who’s to know what’s best to do next?” Too true And a good response to those tiresome people who uestion why a particular field of research is being pursued when at least in their opinion there are far worthier topics that should be investigatedI found the book went downhill in the final three chapters where Davis speculated that the MHC genes may influence our choice of partners our mental wellbeing and the success of pregnancy Here I felt that he may have overinflated the role of MHC genes at the expense of the immune system in general because after all the MHC is only a part of a system that is considered by some to be second only to the human brain in terms of its complexity Overall this is a good book but would be a better book were it not for the irritating reference to “compatibility genes” rather than MHC or HLA genes On a similar note the book is also let down by poor explanations of the basic science as if Davis feels that the likely readership would be unable to understand; personally I suspect that most readers attracted to this book will have some grounding in science I think the book would also benefit from some diagrams to explain the science at present there is just one figure On the other hand the text is well referenced with a useful index both being features I much appreciate in a popular science book


  7. says:

    Great book that finds the sweet spot between pop science and academic It can be a valuable supplement if not essential to an immunology course because at does a great job describing the history of the field and all the trials and tribulations it took to get to some of the fundamental concepts that we take for granted An added benefit is that it's a great introduction to experimental design as well; it goes through a lot of experiments and explains how some could provide only ambiguous answers and the types of positivenegative controls that make for experiments that provide clear cut certaintyOther reviews have talked about how this book spends a lot of time on the personal lives of scientists which is true That being said it was never any less interesting It's a great insight into what a career in research is like the gestation of an idea to published paper the politics the snags scientists' motivations and so on If anyone ever wanted to do PhD work this has the added benefit of providing the whole pictureEven if it does devote a lot of time to the personal side the book doesn't suffer any less on the academic side It's still full of many fascinating aspects of immunology on the practical medical applications side and some fascinating future implications


  8. says:

    I'm going to preface this by saying I read this a few years ago and some of the details may be hazy Overall I thought Davis did a great job of introducing a complex scientific topic in a way which makes it accessible to people without a scientific background and overall this was an interesting read if a bit dryHowever than while reading any other non fiction science book I've read reading The Compatibility Gene made me painfully aware of the bias that women in science have historically faced and continue to face It's not that credit was taken away from women and given to men of course fewer women than men were involved in the discoveries detailed as always in the history of science just that there is a disparity in the way in which their personal lives were described I do not think this is Davis' fault I am sure he was just working with the information available to him and that the personal lives and voices of the male scientists included in this scientific story were well recorded than any female scientists involved All the same if women being sidelined is something which upsets you you might not enjoy this book


  9. says:

    What I found really fascinating in this book are the stories of scientists who made all these discoveries and pushed the field of immunology further I've learned some things about the immune system too of course although it really helps to already know the basic textbook stuff not a book for complete noobs definitely not But it's the social and personal context that really make it an interesting story even for a science student it is all too easy to forget that all the gazillions of papers were written by real living breathing humans And even easier to overlook the efforts put into by people who founded big fields such as immunology and did something really newAlso the epilogue is a gem I hope the author has some TEDtalks or something seems like he's actually hilarious


  10. says:

    This book describes the history of immunology focusing on the genes that help our bodies to discriminate self from non self the major histocompatibility genes The author does a great job explaining a very complex system that to this day we do not completely understand In addition to the history and the basic science the author also spends a section of the book on some of the uniue characteristics of this gene including its potential function in the brain and in body odors and attraction The book is well written and accessible to most with a basic understanding of science