Book Recommendation – Genomics

It’s September 1st and time to delve back into my reviews and musings here on the blog. For those who are regular followers, my cross country road trip, New York to San Francisco, was a blast and I know many of you traveled with me through my photo journaling of the experience on FB. Despite COVID I am feeling super lucky to be already developing a wonderful community here in SF, and my new job promises to be stretching and rewarding. I am kicking off with a nonfiction title that kicks some scientific ass, and one I am certainly adding to my new high school library shelves!

Title: Genomics, A Revolution in Health and Gene Discovery

Authors Whitney Stewart & Hans C. Anderson, MD

 Publisher: 21st Century Book (Lerner), Sept 1st, 2020

Ages: 13+

Themes: genomics, genome project, disease, ethics, ancestry, gene therapy, gene sequencing, forensic science, DNA, science, molecular biology

Genre: Nonfiction

Synopsis:

Over the past 50 years, scientists have made incredible progress in the application of genetic research to human health and disease treatment. Innovative tools and techniques such as gene therapy can treat inherited disorders that were previously untreatable, or prevent them from happening in the first place. You can take a DNA test to learn where your ancestors came from. Police officers make use of genetic evidence to identify criminals–or innocents. And some doctors are using new medical techniques for unprecedented procedures.

Genomics: A Revolution in Health and Disease Discovery delves into the history, science, and ethics behind recent breakthroughs in genetic research. Authors Whitney Stewart and Hans Andersson, MD, present fascinating case studies that show how real people have benefitted from genetic research. Though the genome remains full of mysteries, researchers and doctors are working hard to uncover its secrets and find the best ways to treat patients and cure diseases. The discoveries to come will inform how we target disease treatment, how we understand our health, and how we define our very identities.

Opening:

Roy remembers being a healthy child despite suffering from a sinus infection about once a year. Back then Roy had more important things to think about than head congestion and a runny nose. He was a talented trumpet player and started playing at nightclubs at the age of fourteen. Later, though, he began to have more frequent sinus infections and often felt tired . He thought his health problems came from performing at night in a smoke-filled room and from not getting enough sleep.

Defintion:

GENOMICS: noun, BIOLOGY

  1. the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes

Why I like this book:

I rarely review STEAM books, but as I know one of the authors, I was fascinated by how they would present this to a younger readership, and I was not disappointed. This is an interesting and accessible brief presentation of genomics, what DNA is, what it means for humans, what sequencing is, how it works, and what that means in practical terms for the general population.

Genomics is a giant subject, and I can’t imagine the discussions the authors and editors had in deciding what to include and what to leave out. I think they did a stellar job in creating an introduction to complex concepts which can be digested and understood by high schoolers and demystifying the complicated science. Those inspired by this overview will acquire enough comprehension to pursue their specific areas of interest/questions beyond this introduction. Especially as the book includes twenty+ pages of source notes, a glossary, selected bibliography and supplemental resources.

Getting young people interested in and excited about science and technology is critical not just for raising the next generation of researchers, doctors, and engineers but in raising awareness of how their daily choices can influence theirs and our planet’s health. I love the dedication of this book, which includes the hope that it will help inspire young people to train in the field of genetic science and medicine. As a complete novice in this area, but with a healthy curiosity for health and genetics, this book felt pitched at my level of understanding and while covering many molecular biology discoveries, it remained very accessible, readable and intriguing for me. I would offer it to any friend curious about the heady advancements that science has seen over the past half century in genomics and allied research. One of my closest friends is a scientist in diagnostics and she has helped me understand the importance of genomics in the future of diagnostic and clinical medicine.

The book uses several case studies, starting with that of a musician who had an array of symptoms over a long period. This first case shows the length of time and commitment needed both from the patient and their family as well as all the health care professionals to bring some sort of satisfactory resolution. The authors do not shy way from unresolved case studies, where maybe only partial diagnoses have been possible. The demonstrate the diligence of the researchers and caregivers and constant evolution in the field offering continued hope for breakthroughs.

To give you more of a taste, Genomics looks briefly at the history of genetic science and areas like the development of screening, mapping the genome, gene therapy, Sanger sequencing, and the massive advances the genome project has brought in the treatment of many undiagnosed patients. I also appreciated that the authors look at the way DNA sequencing has enhanced other fields, such as the study of archeology revealing how many cross-disciplinary aspects there are to this science. DNA data has been used to look at the migration trail of our ancestors or, as those of us who watch many police series know so well, to solve many crimes. The book repeatedly addresses the many ethical questions that use of these scientific discoveries raises, from revealing familial links or lack thereof when doing ancestry tests etc, to the insidious rise of eugenics early last century and how insurance companies in the US can misuse data to penalize certain citizens with conditions likely to cause many health issues. Discrimination on racial and transgender lines is confronted and respect for members of the disability community is prioritized.  These sorts of issues would be great as discussion topics in high school classes looking at opposing viewpoints and ethical controversies not just in science classes.

I also want to give a shout out to the inclusion of lesser know female scientists who have contributed so much to this research, such as Rosalind Franklin, whose research on the DNA structure helped her male colleagues win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or medicine in 1962!

Through sidebars and various perspectives, multiple explanations and diagrams, the authors simplify complicated information into easy-to-work-with concepts. This takes what high school students start to learn in their biology class to real-world technology applications of biotechnology, which I think many will find fascinating. Add this to your high school NF shelves, please.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 

Resources/Activities:

New terms are defined in the text and the book does include an abbreviated glossary.

The ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

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