Members' Book Recommendations

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TitleAuthorRecommended by
What a Plant KnowsDaniel ChamovitzRoger Voles
Bird SenseTim BirkheadRoger Voles
The Epigenetics RevolutionNessa CareyRoger Voles

What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz, Oneworld, 2012, £12.99, pbk    back to top ↑

Chamovitz is the Director of the Manna Centre for Plant Sciences at Tel Aviv University.
He reviews the latest research in plant biology and describes how plants “see”, smell, feel, “hear” and remember. Of the many fascinating facts that are described, the one which has puzzled the reviewer for many years is how plants sense the vertical. Apparently, this is done by cells containing dense ball-like structures that fall to the bottom of the cells where there are sensor receptors.

Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead, Bloomsbury, 2012, £8.99, pbk    back to top ↑

Birkhead is a professor of animal behaviour at Sheffield University.
He covers the senses of seeing, hearing, touch, taste and smell. His approach is anecdotal rather than analytical. One interesting discovery of recent times is the lateralisation of bird brains – rather like our own. Canaries, for instance, sing using only the left side of their brains, while the domestic fowl tends to use its right eye for feeding and its left eye for scanning for predators.

The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey, Iconbooks, 2012, £9.99, pbk    back to top ↑

Nessa Carey is a former Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Imperial College.
Epigenetics is revolutionising biology. “Epi” in genetics means the addition of chemical groups to the DNA which change the functions of these cells. Epigenetics refers to all those cases where the genetic code isn’t enough to describe what is happening. Epigenetic therapies are the new frontiers of drug discovery.
The first effects of epigenetics were seen as the result of the Dutch period of starvation at the end of WW2. During this period, many women became pregnant – some of whom were starved during the first few months of their pregnancies but well-fed later, following which their babies were likely to be born of normal weight. But, when these babies grew up they had a high obesity rate. Extraordinarily, when this second generation then had children, they also tended to be obese, ie, something was remembered about the starvation during the early months of the pregnancies of their grandmothers.
Most chapters in this book make easy and fascinating reading – but this reviewer gave up trying to follow some of the more technical sections.