I always had the feeling that evolution was the inventor of new things and development was a secondary problem of how to build an organism from information already present in the fertilised egg. Now I know what problems need to be solved in building a multicellular organism from a single cell in the first place. Enrico Coen magnificently explains how the head-tail, ventral-dorsal, left-right and inside-outside axis is build out of nearly nothing. The subtitle of the book is a perfect illustration of the task: How organisms make themselves (without help from outside). The problem looked only harder since the discovery of DNA : the information in DNA is one-dimensional, so how to build a 3-dimensional organism on the basis of that? No wonder that people in previous centuries saw miniature humans in egg or sperm. But since that 'solution' was refuted, the problem confronted us again: how do organisms make themselves? Enrico Coen gives deep insights with the help of metaphors derived from art and with the necessary scientific details and without confusing us with too many complexities. Coen explains the crucial role of genes without being a genetic reductionist. His examples are both from animals and plants, wich I find an advantage. This book is an achievement. The only criticism I have is that the main metaphor Coen uses is about colors and all the illustrations are in black-and-white! At least the hardback edition should have color illustrations!
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