Open any catalogue of the human genome and you will be confronted not with a list of human potentialities, but a list of diseases, mostly named after pairs of obscure central-European doctors. This gene causes Niemann-Pick disease; that one causes Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. The impression given is that genes are there to cause diseases. ...........................................................

Yet to define genes by the diseases they cause is about as absurd as defining organs of the body by the diseases they get: livers are there to cause cirrhosis, hearts to cause heart attacks and brains to cause strokes. It is a measure, not of our knowledge but of our ignorance, that this is the way the genome catalogues read. It is literally true that the only thing we know about some genes is that their malfunction causes a particular disease. This is a pitifully small thing to know about a gene, and a terribly misleading one. It leads to the dangerous shorthand that runs as follows: `X has got the Wolf-Hirschhorn gene'. Wrong. We all have the Wolf-Hirschhorn gene, except, ironically, people who have Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome.

I wrote some of the paragraph to show the context but the problem is just a purple colored sentence.

'It is a measure, not of our knowledge but of our ignorance, that this is the way the genome catalogues read.'

Can 'that' in this sentence mean 'if' ? Can I read it like 'If this is the way the genome catelogues read, it is a measure, not of our knowledge but of our ignorance.'

Hello Ahn,

1. It is a measure, not of our knowledge but of our ignorance, that this is the way the genome catalogues read.

Your "if" version makes a hypothesis of a statement, but is (I think) essentially correct. I would paraphrase #1 as:

2. The fact that genome catalogues are written in this way demonstrates the degree to which we are ignorant, not the degree to which we are knowledgeable.

All the best,


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Thank you very much MrPedantic! Emotion: smile
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You're welcome!

(I liked the "diseases mostly named after pairs of obscure central-European doctors".)

Hi, Ahn,

I just read that book myself. Let me know how you liked it when you finish!


(The fact that we know genes only by the diseases they cause when they don't function properly is a sign of our ignorance -- not a sign of our knowledge. -- It's unfortunate that this is all we know about many genes.)
Hello, CalifJim. Thank you for your clear answer Emotion: smile

Actaully I'm not reading the book 'Genome' now.

I'm just practicing translation with just a part of the book.

But I read "The Selfish Gene" when I was taking the 'Sociobiology' class.

It was interesting but it's not easy for me to read biological books.

I'll read "The origins of virtue" by Matt Ridley soon. Hopefully, I will read 'Genome' too.

Sounds great you read that book!

I want to ask you what do you think of the book, if it's not an English forums ^^;
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Well, excerpts from that book should be good translation practice. I can sympathize, because unless you are already familiar with the ideas of molecular biology, I imagine it might be difficult to translate.
I enjoyed the book. It's quite a novel approach to build each chapter around one particular chromosome of the genome, but Ridley manages it well by straying from the topic from time to time as needed! What's interesting, too, is that he attempts to build the knowledge of the genome by beginning with the most basic facts of molecular biology, saving the less typical cases for later chapters -- while simultaneously restricting himself to the numerical order of the chromosomes. I think it's a good introduction to the subject, told with as little technical jargon as possible.

It seems the book is worth reading though I don't know about molecular biology well.

I'm quite interested in the mysteries of life so knowing biological knowledge will be also attractive.