Home > Genre, nonfiction > Book Review: Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats by Emily Monosson

Book Review: Evolution in a Toxic World: How Life Responds to Chemical Threats by Emily Monosson

Bird, bug, butterfly, and frog.Summary:
Monosson attempts to explain both current and possible future impacts of chemical pollutants on humans by examining how life responded to toxic threats in the past.

Allow me to preface my review by saying that although I am not a scientist, my profession is that of a medical librarian, so scientific jargon is not new to me.  I would therefore say my understanding of science is somewhere above average American but below actual scientist.  I had the impression from the description that this book is written by a scientist for public consumption aka the average American.  It misses the mark.

The content is great and informative, but it is couched in such an overload of scientific jargon and an assumption of an above average understanding of how the human body works that it was incredibly difficult to get through in order to glean out the interesting information.  Thank goodness I had the kindle version and could look up words easily as I went, or I would have given up within the first chapter.  Additionally, just when things were starting to get interesting, such as with how DDT impacts development in utero, Monosson would switch topics.  Very frustrating!

That said, I did learn quite a bit from this book.  It was just difficult to get to these understandable tidbits given the writing style and structure.  Here are a few interesting things I learned:

Like some pervasive computer operating systems, p53 is an archetypical example of the unintelligent design and compromise that is inherent in evolution—a multifunctional, multipurpose transcriptional coordinator that has only lately been retasked to the job of tumor suppression in large, long-lived orgasms….At the end of the day p53, together with all our other suppressor mechanisms, fails half of humanity.  (location 1314)

Though two species may share a common ancestor and hence a common ancestral receptor or enzyme, once they part ways on the family tree, the branches evolve independently.  (location 1670)

For a genetically male mammal to come out looking and functioning male, he requires in utero exposure to hormones like testosterone and its more potent derivative, dihydrotestosterone, along with a functioning AR. An embryo lacking either hormones or a properly functioning AR (or exposed to chemicals that disrupt either receptor or hormone production) will take on a female appearance, despite possessing a Y chromosome….work by Kelce, Gray, and others revealed that a metabolite of the pesticide DDT was an even more potent inhibitor of the AR than was vinclozolin. Given the ubiquity of DDT and its metabolites, this was a potentially explosive finding. (location 1716)

If our CYP enzymes are increasingly metabolizing a variety of pharmaceuticals, what happens when we add one more, or change our diet, or breathe in chemicals like polyaromatics bound to micron-sized air pollution particulates? (location 2509)

Ultimately though, although I learned a lot, the reading experience itself was a bit daunting for the average American.  I believe this book would best be enjoyed by a scientist for whom evolution is not their normal research area.  They thus would have an easier time with the jargon, but also not already know what Monosson is talking about.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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