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Preface/Front Matter

Geoffrey North


My coeditor, Ralph Greenspan, and I have decided, rather than to coauthor a preface to this book, to act as bookends, with Ralph writing the Afterword and me writing the Foreword. This does not reflect any disagreement in view, but instead, complementary perspectives. Ralph has the point of view of a professional scientist in the field, and I have the point of view of a professional editor who is most definitely not a specialist, but who finds the field fascinating.

Before explaining the rationale and aims of this book, it might be worth giving a bit of background-the views that have informed our approach to the subject.We share the opinion that the molecular revolution which began in the 1950s has over-skewed biology somewhat; the insights into fundamental processes that have been made possible by this revolution are remarkable, but they have tended to foster the view that the main point of biology is to elucidate molecular mechanisms. In the extreme view, a description of any biological phenomenon becomes a mere prelude to analysis by a now well-trod route: Screen for genetic variants where the phenomenon at issue is perturbed; clone the gene; sequence the gene; analyze its product; and so on.

This approach has proved tremendously successful in many areas of biology, particularly cellular and developmental biology. Indeed, when the study of the molecular biology of metazoan organisms began in earnest in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was not clear that it would prove quite so...

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