Genetic Mysteries: How DNA Testing Affects Modern Families | Science Reviews

Highly recommended for popular science and memoir fans; Kolker masterfully combines scientific intrigue with biographical sketches, allowing readers to feel as if they are right there with the researchers in their quest for answers

Two new titles delve into the mysteries of DNA, perfect for fans of popular science and memoir.

Copeland, Libby. The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Upending Who We Are. Abrams. Mar. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781419743009. $27. SCI
Journalist Copeland explores the rapid advances in home genetic testing kits in the last decade. The kits have become popular gifts, but Copeland shares numerous cautionary tales of "seekers" who found more than they bargained for. The heart of the book is the story of Alice Collins Plebuch, who tested in the early days of commercial kits and discovered that her genetic heritage was not solidly Irish, as she had supposed, but was Ashkenazi Jewish on her father’s side. This led to a years-long quest to unravel the mystery of her heritage, resulting in the discovery that her father was switched at birth with another baby in a (no longer existing) hospital in New York in 1913. Copeland uses fascinating stories of family discoveries to illustrate the science behind genetic connections and to discuss the ways bioethical considerations have not kept pace with the improvement of the kits, including privacy concerns with how genetic databases are used by law enforcement. She emphasizes that if you choose to send in your saliva sample, the results can reverberate through the whole family tree.
VERDICT Highly recommended for popular science and memoir fans, as well as readers with an interest in genealogy.—Caren Nichter, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin

redstarKolker, Robert. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. Doubleday. Apr. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780385543767. $29.95. SCI
Delving into the mysterious roots of a misunderstood condition, Kolker (Lost Girls) tells the story of the Galvin family, who lived on Hidden Valley Road, and their role in a scientific discovery. Kolker describes how, after discovering that six of the 12 Galvin children were diagnosed with schizophrenia, medical researchers began collecting their genetic material in hopes of determining the biology of the disease. The Galvin clan comes alive in Kolker’s eloquent telling: distant parents Don and Mimi, who wanted to be seen as a model military family; the six affected sons, many of whom spent time in and out of mental hospitals; and two daughters, who were all but abandoned by their parents. Alternating chapters movingly detail the family’s tragedy and despair, including the ways the illness manifests, along with the study of illness as a science in order to determine its genetic makeup. Throughout, Kolker effectively shows how illness impacts each relative, especially those who live alongside it.
VERDICT Kolker masterfully combines scientific intrigue with biographical sketches, allowing readers to feel as if they are right there with the Galvins as researchers examine their genes in the quest for answers. An unforgettable must-read.—­Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal

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