Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope

Overview


In Stronger Than Steel, readers enter Randy Lewis' lab where they come face to face with golden orb weaver spiders, and transgenic alfalfa, silkworm silk, and goats, whose milk contains the proteins to spin spider silk--and to weave a nearly indestructible fiber. Learn how this amazing material might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments and bones, improve body armor, strengthen parachute rope, and even tether an airplane to an aircraft carrier! Readers explore rapid advancements in the ...
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Overview


In Stronger Than Steel, readers enter Randy Lewis' lab where they come face to face with golden orb weaver spiders, and transgenic alfalfa, silkworm silk, and goats, whose milk contains the proteins to spin spider silk--and to weave a nearly indestructible fiber. Learn how this amazing material might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments and bones, improve body armor, strengthen parachute rope, and even tether an airplane to an aircraft carrier! Readers explore rapid advancements in the application of genetic medicine and their potential to save and improve lives while considering the crucial ethical concerns of genetic research. A timely addition to the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Move over, Spider-Man. In this addition to the Scientists in the Field series, Heos offers a window into astonishing real-life research conducted by biologist Randy Lewis, who studies the potential uses for spider silk in products like artificial tendons, spacesuits, body armor, and more. It might sound like a B movie plot, but it’s pure science: Lewis and his team inject goat embryos with spider genes. As a result, some of the goat offspring become “transgenic,” allowing spider silk proteins to be collected through their milk. “Randy uses old-fashioned farm sense,” Heos explains. “To get good milk producers, he breeds a ‘spider goat’ with a goat whose family members produce lots of milk.” Lewis’s team also experiments with injecting alfalfa and silkworms with arachnid genes. Abundant photographs and a lively narrative make the topic accessible and almost lighthearted, and Heos lays groundwork for readers with a basic introduction to DNA and gene theory. Ethical questions surrounding genetic engineering are briefly addressed, and the book’s candid and detailed discussion provides fodder for readers who wish to engage in a broader conversation. Ages 10–14. Agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

"Move over, Spider-Man. . . . Abundant photographs and a lively narrative make the topic accessible and almost lighthearted, and Heos lays groundwork for readers with a basic introduction to DNA and gene theory."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A complex, controversial topic, positively presented."
School Library Journal

"Clear focus, careful explanztions with occasional repetition of denser information, and a wealth of color photographs make this title inviting and accessible. . . and the kissin'-cute goats should entice quite a few readers to explore this project further."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
A great resource for elementary, middle and high school libraries, the "Scientists in the Field" series is an excellent look into the types of research scientists are doing in the field in today's ever-changing world. This particular entry, focused on genetics, is divided into eleven chapters that lead readers through Dr. Randy Lewis' research into spider silk and how, through genetic enhancements in goats in particular but also with alfalfa and silkworms, silk threads could be developed to create new products or variations on contemporary products (noted in the title of the book). Specific chapters also discuss what transgenic organisms are as well as the ethical concerns around "creating" and sustaining them, how the research focus has changed over the past few years, and the different types of silk that exist and their current uses. There is also a "fun activity" that allows younger readers interested in science to pull DNA from strawberries as well as follow-ups on some of the goats introduced to readers throughout the text and what has happened to them in terms of their offspring. An excellent glossary as well as a strong "Additional Sources" section provides great connections for readers wanting more information. I highly recommend this text and this series. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—This title explores the world of genetic engineering, focusing specifically on generating spider silk proteins in such quantity/quality as to warrant commercial development. Why spider silk? The title tells it succinctly. Stronger than steel, it is also flexible and stretchable, and can be spun into surgical sutures and artificial ligaments and woven into bulletproof vests and military-style body armor, among a host of other things. Heos's lively text, full of somewhat demanding concepts, takes readers into "Spider-Man" Randy Lewis's lab at the University of Wyoming, a world of transgenic alfalfa, bacterial "hosts" for spider DNA, and ultimately to a flock of transgenic goats whose milk now carries spider-silk proteins. Complex processes such as the isolation of a spider-silk gene, its introduction into a bacterium, and its subsequent removal to be injected into embryonic goats are lucidly described. As to ethical questions of "messing about" with the genetic code? Heos writes of the problems inherent if "escaping" transgenic pollen mixes into the world of nontransgenic flora. She speaks of the euthanization of transgenic goats that produce little or no spider-silk proteins in their milk, and even of non-transgenic goats to keep the herd a manageable size. And she speaks of people opposed to genetic engineering for moral and religious reasons, all the while providing scientific "best case" scenarios of its practical and beneficial applications. A complex, controversial topic, positively presented.—Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547681269
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/26/2013
  • Series: Scientists in the Field Series
  • Pages: 79
  • Sales rank: 307,573
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Bridget Heos is the author of thirteen young adult nonfiction books. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three sons. Visit her website at www.authorbridgetheos.com.

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