Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review - Decoding Our DNA: Craig Venter Vs the Human Genome Project

Decoding Our DNA: Craig Venter Vs the Human Genome Project

By: Karen Gunnison Ballen
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
PUblication Date: August 2012
ISBN: 978-0761354895
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2013

Gregor Mendel’s observations of seemingly simple breeding experiments in the mid-1800s would have far reaching implications on how we view our genetic inheritance. When he observed the “different traits, such as round versus wrinkled peas,” this led to the discovery of dominant and recessive units or genes. Later in the century microscopes further enhanced his research as microscopes enabled scientists to view chromosomes, “long coiled strands of DNA” inside biological materials. Little did they know what they were looking at, but soon other scientists would discover the implications of these discoveries.

Thomas Hunt Morgan’s work with fruit flies and their genetic inheritance or genetic linkage fascinated one of his students, Alfred Sturtevant. Sturtevant subsequently “created the first genetic map,” a discovery that Morgan dubbed “one of the most amazing developments in the whole history of biology.” Work on genetics quietly progressed as scientists began to link and build on the work of their predecessors. Scientists in the early 1950s “knew the basic components of DNA,” but it wasn’t until Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist, captured an “X-ray diffraction photo of a DNA molecule” that they knew the structure was a double helix.

Franklin was neither acknowledged nor thanked for her work when three scientists won the Nobel prize for confirming the structure of DNA. Work once again progressed into the 1970s when genome sequencing began. Little could anyone know that debate and outright war would lie ahead for those striving to sequence the human genome. Patents and profits entered into the formula. You’ll read and learn about the sequencing, the Human Genome Project (HGP), the genome shotgun technique, the Bermuda Accord, the “war” between biologist Craig Venter and geneticist Francis Collins, and you’ll learn many other fascinating things about the rivalries and scandals surrounding the decoding of our DNA.

This is an amazing overview of the science and the scientists behind the sequencing of the human genome. Many young people are familiar with Gregor Mendel and his study of the traits of different pea plants. The history of genetics leading to the sequencing of the human genome is not as well known. The book starts out with the conflict surrounding “the crown jewel of twentieth century biology” and the scientists and debate surrounding its ownership, so to speak. This exciting introduction then goes back to Mendel and builds back up to the “genome war.” The book was well-researched and will be a high interest book for those students interested in science. In the back of the book is an index, a timeline (1866 to 2012), a glossary, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book, and website resources to explore.

Quill says: This is one is a series, Scientific Rivalries and Scandals, that will be of high interest to young people interested in unusual scientific stories!

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