In medical science there is a long if somewhat fringe tradition of "participatory research," wherein scientists use their own bodies to test whatever substance or theory they are looking into. Some have even put themselves at great risk by exposing themselves to infectious diseases or other hazards. San Francisco writer David Ewing Duncan does not go to quite that extreme, but he does explore deep within his tissues, genes and health to give a startling and sometimes disturbing look at how our bodies are, and might be, affected by life in the modern industrial era.
Duncan begins with a simple experiment, joining a fishing trip out of Bolinas Lagoon, catching a halibut, eating from it in two meals, and in so doing driving his body's level of mercury to over double the recommended safety level. That's just the start, though; he donates numerous vials of his blood for testing by a wide array of scientists, both academic and commercially inclined, and spends considerable time in MRI machines having his brain scanned and the results interpreted.
His intention is to examine his genetic makeup, brain and body and how environmental factors influence his body and mind in an attempt to "humanize science by having a real person with a family and children intimately participate in leading-edge technologies." By so doing, he hopes to provide some insight into a coming "new era of medicine" wherein we will be able to "acquire profound new powers of knowledge about ourselves, possibly more than we want to know."