The Compatibility Gene
The story of the crucial genes that shape our health, our relationships and our individuality. We each possess a similar set of around 25,000 human genes. Yet a tiny, distinctive cluster of these genes plays a disproportionately large part in how our bodies work. These few genes, argues Daniel M. Davis, hold the key to who we are as individuals and our relationship to the world: how we combat disease, how our brains are wired, how attractive we are, even how likely we are to reproduce.
Short-listed for the Society of Biology Book Award 2014
Long-listed for the Royal Society Winton prize for science books 2014
The story of the crucial genes that shape our health, our relationships and our individuality.
We each possess a similar set of around 25,000 human genes. Yet a tiny, distinctive cluster of these genes plays a disproportionately large part in how our bodies work. These few genes, argues Daniel M. Davis, hold the key to who we are as individuals and our relationship to the world: how we combat disease, how our brains are wired, how attractive we are, even how likely we are to reproduce.
In The Compatibility Gene, one of our foremost immunologists tells the remarkable history of these genes’ discovery and the unlocking of their secrets. From the British scientific pioneers who, during the Second World War, struggled to understand the mysteries of transplants and grafts, to the Swiss zoologist who devised an entirely new method of assessing potential couples’ compatibility based on the smell of worn T-shirts, Davis traces what is nothing less than a scientific revolution in our understanding of the human body: a global adventure spanning some sixty years. Davis shows how the compatibility gene is radically transforming our knowledge of the way our bodies work – and is having profound consequences for medical research and ethics. Looking to the future, he considers the startling possibilities of what these wondrous discoveries might mean for you and me.
‘Who am I? What makes me different from everyone else? Daniel Davis recounts the remarkable science that has answered one version of these questions. He makes immunology as fascinating to popular science readers as cosmology, consciousness, and evolution.’
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and the author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature
‘There aren’t many stories of scientific endeavour that have never been told. This is one of them. Ostensibly about a set of genes that we all have and need, this book is really about the men and women who discovered them and worked out what they do. It’s about brilliant insights and lucky guesses; the glory of being proved right and the paralysing fear of getting it wrong; the passion for cures and the lust for Nobels. It’s a search for the essence of scientific greatness by a scientist who is headed that way himself.’
Armand Marie Leroi, author of Mutants
‘Genes help make us what we are, but in the often overstated claims of what DNA can actually say one crucial section of the double helix has largely been ignored. This book fills that gap. The genes behind our system of diversity code for the clues that control tissue transplants, responses to infection and even sexual success. They are complex indeed but The Compatibility Gene cuts through the complexity to reveal the startling truth about perhaps the most important section of the molecule that defines what it means to be human.’
Steve Jones, author of The Language of the Genes, Almost Like a Whale and The Serpent’s Promise
‘Davis weaves a warm biographical thread through his tale of scientific discovery, revealing the drive and passion of those in the vanguard of research … unusual results, astonishing implications and ethical dilemmas.’
‘Davis makes the twists and turns all count.’
‘An elegantly written, unexpectedly gripping account of how scientists painstakingly unravelled the way in which a small group of genes … crucially influence, and unexpectedly interconnect, various aspects of our lives … Lab work has rarely been made to seem more interesting or heroic.’
Bill Bryson, Guardian ‘Books of the Year’
‘Daniel M. Davis is a scientist, indeed an immunologist, who not only writes gracefully but has taken the trouble to interview the major players in his field about how they made their discoveries … These biographical details … enliven the book and are germane to another of the author’s goals, which is to give the reader insights into the sometimes murky processes of science … Dr. Davis’s readable and informative book takes the reader into unexpectedly interesting corners of both the immune system and the lives of immunologists. It is packed with an insider’s knowledge — not just of the field, but of where its bodies are buried.’
The New York Times
‘One of those clearly written science book that grips like a thriller.’
‘A fascinating, expertly told story.’
‘The genes that make you a true individual … Davis provides a well-written and easy-to-read account of the sometimes complicated biology behind the crucial genes that affect our lives so profoundly.’
‘Davis ranges energetically through the research. Cultural references and anecdotes abound.’