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Book Review: The Soma

8 December 2014
Appeared in BioNews 783

The Soma

By Dr Robyn Lindley

Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN-10: 1451525648, ISBN-13: 978-1451525649

Buy this book from Amazon UK

Wouldn't it be great to take charge of your evolution? To harness the exciting field of epigenetics and somehow get a bit of control over the randomness of nature and natural selection? That's the underlying theme of 'The Soma', but unfortunately the book fails the same fitness tests natural selection imposes on every living thing.

Robyn Lindley is a proponent of Lamarckian evolution – a competing evolutionary theory that states organisms acquire traits over their lifetime and can then pass those traits onto their offspring. A blacksmith gains strength from hammering iron every day and his children are blessed with such strength too. This stands in contrast to a stricter Darwinian view that animals start with pre-set attributes and only those who have the 'right genetics' to survive manage to pass those genes onto their offspring.

For decades, Lamarckian evolution (and Lysenkoism, its Soviet daughter theory) has been consigned to the fringe of evolutionary debate. Darwin's theory best described evolution as we understood it from a whole organism level, and was further bolstered by the advances in molecular biology and genetics during the twentieth century.

It has only been recently with our developing understanding of epigenetics – the layer of information 'above' the gene such as the chemical modifications and protein structures that silence or activate segments of DNA - that a new neo-Lamarckism has developed. Unfortunately, while epigenetics is an exciting and promising field of research, 'The Soma' fails to explain the science adequately. Indeed, I was dismayed to see several misunderstandings of basic biology that progressively undermined the case being built.

While we are learning more and more about how environmental factors impact a person's DNA over their lifetime; while we now understand how the life of a parent can impact on the health of the child, 'The Soma' does not build this into a convincing case for Lamarckian evolution. The book begins by accepting Lamarckian theories and fits the science to them, instead of testing the theories against the data. By the end, with the science misrepresented, strong claims unsupported and several references to a 'design' behind biology, 'The Soma' wraps up its argument with a strange section on taking control of our evolution. A homo sapiens 2.0 with references to 'Google genes' that seemed to be a flight of fantasy.

Epigenetics is a fast-paced, exciting field that's enhancing our understanding of genetics and evolution. However, it does not undermine Darwin's theories, instead it complements them. Unfortunately, 'The Soma' fails to understand that.

Buy The Soma from Amazon UK.

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