Following a evolutionary timescale, the authors introduce you from the "greatest story ever", the story of the genome, all the way to synthetic genomics. Here are some points I found interesting and worth discussing among many other things you could find:
First of all, on the Late Hadean period you will be introduced on abiogenesis, is it possible that organic molecules can arise from inorganic molecules? Darwin knew, when he wrote On the Origin of Species, that he wasn't ready to answer this even though he did hypothesize about the primordial soup necessary for the arise of these complex molecules.
In the chapter of the Paleocene epoch, they introduce you to the evolution of the mammalian immune system, which is when it took place. This is the epoch that followed dinosaurs extinction around 65-55 myas. Now, with this approach on the immunology system they make an example of how the use of synthetic genomics could be applied on this era. For example, through inserting the lux gene from Vibrio fischeri into a newly engineered invasive organism inv+ E. coli gave the researchers a genetically resided bacterium that could distinguish among cells with different densities and selectively invade on higher density cells such as tumor or cancer cells. So eventually, genetically modified bacteria could be used for cancer treatments. I wonder what people terrified with GMO food products will think about the possibility of inserting a bacteria to treat cancer??? My advise: Don't tell them to avoid panic!
Another example of these modified bacteria is the possibility to alter E. coli to synthesize PYY (3-36), which is a peptide produced in mammalian colon cells responsible for satiety regulation. I find this fascinating, as obesity is one of the major health problems we are facing today.
Later on, making a stop on the Pleistocene period: the age of massive glaciation and global cooling you will read on Nuclear transfer cloning. What do you think on the possibility to bring back a Neanderthal or a mammoth??? One of the arguments mentioned is that this cloning can introduce new genes back into the pool of species for diversity. Remember that diversity is extremely important on the evolution of our species. Well, wouldn't this be against Natural selection or anti Darwinian??? If their genes were already eliminated by our gene pool why bring them back? What new abilities could this possibly offer to our species. It does sound pretty interesting though, it could definitely give us a better understanding of our and their past.
On the Neolithic period: Stone Age and the beginning of agriculture and the greatest transformation towards our civilization. In which he makes an analogy of artificial selection through the domestication of plants and animals with synthetic biology. First "domesticating" E. coli to produce insulin, EPO or monoclonal antibodies among other uses through gene modification. Later for production of biofuels, new drugs and GMOs and now on the phase creating synthetic genomic enterprises.
Well, I don't want to ruin or spoil your reading because there are many great topics I could endlessly keep on debating on this book and on every chapter you will definitely find something worth discussing or stop and give it a thought. Personally I love genetics and I like to imagine all the fascinating possibilities that synthetic genomics could give rise in our health and our environment. Will the rise of genetic engineering lead us to the development of a better species, perhaps a Homo sapiens 2.0???? and, are we really ready to face the challenges that genetic engineering can give us? I think we are. Of course, science will have to continue facing many challenges regarding ethics, humanism, religion, political and economical, but at the end science is about understanding our past and looking for our best options towards our future and our survival.
My recommendation: Read this book. It is well written and in a simple way anyone can understand and enjoy from the RNA era to an epigenetics epilogue, to give you an idea how genetics has and will continue to influence our lives.