Latest Issue

Genetic revisionism

The human genome is not a book, and this metaphor is now becoming an obstacle

By Philip Ball   August 2006

The latest findings in genetics and molecular biology are revealing the so-called “book of life” to be messy to the point of incomprehensibility. Each copy is filled with annotations that change the meaning, there are some instructions that the book omits, the words overlap and we don’t have a clue about the grammar.

Or maybe we simply have the wrong metaphor. The genome is no book, and the longer we talk about it in that way, the harder it will be to avoid misconceptions about how genes work.

But it’s not just the notion of the genome as a “list…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect