In DNA: THE SECRET OF LIFE (Knopf, $39.95), James D. Watson looks back on the 50 years since he and fellow Nobel laureate Francis Crick unlocked the blueprint to mankind’s genetic code. Sound daunting? Well, here are some talking points to impress dinner guests and cabbies. — Wook Kim
— A key breakthrough in helping Watson and Crick formulate DNA’s double-helix structure came from data collected by a largely forgotten researcher, Rosalind Franklin, who died in 1958. Watson disparaged her in his 1968 book, The Double Helix, but now feels she deserved her own Nobel.
— Supermodels and Nobelists notwithstanding, humans are pretty much the same, since 99.9 percent of our genes are identical. Penguins, meanwhile, have more than twice our level of genetic variation. (And if you really want to get depressed, consider that an onion genome is about six times longer than a human’s.)
— In a riff on eugenics, Watson notes that nearly half the recruits who took the U.S. Army’s absurdly rigorous IQ test during WWI were deemed ”feebleminded.”
– The Max Hoffman Foundation decided to provide the initial funding for the Human Genome Project only after being denied naming rights to a new giant telescope.
— Genetic researchers can cause fruit flies to grow eyes on their legs.