The newest addition to the Scientists in the Field Series is out. Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos and illustrated by Andy Comins highlights scientist Randy Lewis’ quest to find a better way to obtain large quantities of spider silk for innovative new products.
Packed with so much information on different topics, it is hard to know where to start with this book. The first chapter introduces us to both spiders and to the basics of genetics. Why genetics? Because Randy Lewis is exploring ways to produce large quantities of spider silk via the genetic engineering of a variety of different organisms, starting with goats.
After spending some time getting acquainted with the adorable goats, the reader is off to learn about potential products that could be made from the silk protein expressed in the milk of the transgenic females. The next stop is transgenic alfalfa, then transgenic silkworms, then transgenic bacteria. In the chapter about “Transgenic Organisms: Ethical Concerns and Lifesaving Possibilities” we also meet transgenic pigs that contain a mouse gene and soybeans that are resistant to an herbicide. It is a whirlwind tour of bio engineering.
Interspersed, we also get to know more about Randy Lewis and his technicians and students, including some of the techniques and equipment they use, as well as a few details of their personal lives.
Because Stronger Than Steel covers so much ground, it is likely to spark an interest in children to delve more deeply into a number of different topics. Be prepared to pull out further readings and supply activities on topics ranging from bacteria to spider webs. The book will also be a useful resource for students doing reports on transgenic organisms, because it shows both the benefits and the struggles of introducing the genes from one organism into another. Finally, as with the other books in the Scientists in the Field Series, this one offers budding scientists an important glimpse into the lives of actual scientists.
Some suggestions for related activities:
Learn more about the amazing and beautiful robe made from golden spider silk:
Isolate DNA from strawberries and bananas (directions given in the book, too)
Explore silkworms (raising silkworms is a fun project to do with children)
Age Range: 10 and up
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (February 26, 2013)
Book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
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