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Time, Love, Memory: A Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior





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About the book:

In the words of Jonathan Weiner, "Time, love, and memory are ... three cornerstones of the pyramid of behavior." While some find it difficult to view humans as mere machines, molecular biologists maintain that most behavior is genetically based. Even skeptics and opponents agree that molecular biology may well change the way we all live in the 21st century. Little-known outside this exploding field, Seymour Benzer, his mentors, and his generations of students have studied the common fruit fly, Drosophila, and discovered genes that seem to have some influence upon our internal clock, our sexuality, and our ability to learn from our experiences.

Weiner (whose last book, The Beak of the Finch, won a Pulitzer Prize) has written an affectionate history about the development of the science while offering charming glimpses of the people involved--trading haircuts to stretch their grant money in the early years, roaming the laboratory into the wee hours, naming the genes associated with learning after Pavlov's dogs. It's not all sweetness and light, however; ethical questions are raised, some of the hype (and hysteria) surrounding the human genome project is dissipated, and the complicated "clockwork" gene "looks less like an invitation to human intervention and more like a cautionary tale or object lesson for anyone who might try, in the 21st century, to improve on nature's four-billion-year-old designs." That said, the scientists in Weiner's tale reveal a very human side of this fast-moving science, and their belief that they'll find answers to important questions is contagious and compelling. As Benzer himself said, "It's a wonderful, fabulous world, and it's been kicking around a long time." --C.B. Delaney

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