The Scientists in the Field series explores genetic engineering.
Spider silk is useful in myriad ways but relatively rare in the natural world. Scientist Randy Lewis has spent his career searching for ways to produce more of this miracle fiber, using modern genetic techniques to make the genes of the golden orb weaver spider part of the heritage of goats, alfalfa and silkworms. His work is the subject of this latest series entry, which disappoints in its lack of clarity. An intriguing introduction to the spiders (illustrated with a photo of one on a child’s face) is followed by a daunting explanation of DNA. Then, chapter by chapter, Heos describes the work that has produced transgenic animals and plants that will yield silk protein and even the silk itself. Final chapters describe Lewis’ background, offer more detail about genetic procedures and silk production, and discuss ethical questions. Between each chapter is a substantial sidebar that usually fills the following double-page spread, confusing readers who have been led to expect something different from chapter-concluding transitional sentences. There are many characters to keep straight, and both scientists and goats are referred to by their first names.
The lengthy text and difficult material will limit the audience for this, perhaps just to the science students offered directions for isolating strawberry DNA in one sidebar. (Nonfiction. 12-16)