January 2013
Volume 34, Issue 1

Comprehensive Resource Explores the Evolution of Craniofacial Biology

When it comes to scientist storytellers, Harold Slavkin is among the best. In The Birth of a Discipline: Craniofacial Biology (AEGIS Publications, LLC, 2012), not only is Slavkin’s preeminence as a scientist evident, so are his gifts for narrative, his personal charisma, and his robust view of collaborative leadership. Borrowing one of Slavkin’s own highly effective malapropisms, the book is unexpectedly “delicious.”

As a subject, the human face is intrinsically interesting, central to how we are perceived by ourselves and by others. This book uses the face as a model for explaining—in highly accessible language—the progress, the people, and the inside story behind the biological revolution of recent decades. The human face, it turns out, is a superb portal for elucidating advances in molecular genetics, recombinant DNA technology, developmental and evolutionary biology, biomimetics, and the confluence between biology, the digital revolution, and the practice of clinical medicine. Any inquisitive layperson even remotely interested in what’s been happening scientifically in the world will find this book a good place to start. Slavkin connects all the dots for us, and, most importantly, he has the expertise to know what is and what is not a dot—the indispensable aptitude needed to reveal meaningful patterns.

The flavor and excitement of discovery is brilliantly displayed in the way Slavkin poses complex questions in simple terms; for instance, why do cells have different shapes and functions if these qualities are all determined by DNA and if the DNA of all body cells is identical? An account, qualifying as a page-turner, is his description of the work of Edward Kollar and collaborators in their groundbreaking research on epithelial-mesenchymal interactions. The researchers wanted to know whether now-toothless species like birds (the progeny of dinosaurs) retain the basic genetic information to make teeth. This is a question laden with both evolutionary and developmental significance. Slavkin unpacks the problem and explains not only the startling findings, but also the evolutionary implications of dormant developmental genetic programs.

His language is captivating as he talks about fruit flies being generous in disclosing their genes to us, or about modern humans appearing 200,000 years ago accompanied by two amino acids, or about lessons in leadership aimed at fostering porosities between disciplines.

Slavkin’s vision of leadership permeates the entire work, with leadership defined simply as “the act of making a positive difference.” Whether it’s the biology, the people behind the biology, or learning the lessons of leadership from a master, The Birth of a Discipline: Craniofacial Biology will be of interest to many different audiences.

Charles N. Bertolami, DDS, DMedSc,

Herman Robert Fox Dean, New York University College of Dentistry

I often distribute a book to inspire dental students towards research careers, or at least careers that combine rigorous scholarship along with practice and teaching. Dr. Harold Slavkin’s book is a wonderful weaving of memoir and history, lessons in molecular biology and genetics, and experiences and lessons in leadership, collaboration, and the importance of teams and interdisciplinary science. He draws upon his rich and unique experiences as a scientist, NIH Institute director and Dean of a dental school to provide and emphasize transprofessional education and science and coalitions and relationships in getting the job done. This well-written, very readable book reminds us all that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and Dr. Hal Slavkin is one of them. I have a new book to distribute.

R. Bruce Donoff, DMD, MD,

Dean, Harvard School of Dental Medicine; Walter C. Guralnick Distinguished Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

Harold Slavkin’s The Birth of a Discipline offers a rich education in a professional life well lived. Through an intimate, heartfelt narrative, Dr. Slavkin provides important insights into the significance of relationships and collaborations as substantial contributors to success in any endeavor. Beginning with his early graduate training and concluding with his leadership of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the USC School of Dentistry, the book covers a strikingly broad range of experiences; and yet Dr. Slavkin’s engaging, warm story-telling weaves those experiences together into an inspiring tale of trial, error, and remarkable success.

Peter A. DuBois,

Executive Director, California Dental Association

To purchase The Birth of a Discipline: Craniofacial Biology, by Harold C. Slavkin, DDS, visit dentalaegis.com/go/cced287

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