Monday, March 9, 2009
Did you ever wish that you understood what the heck people were talking about when they mentioned DNA, RNA, genes, and chromosomes? Do you hear things about gene therapy and cloning and wonder how stuff like that really works? Or maybe you’ve just gotten to a section on genetics in your science class in school and the teacher isn’t presenting it in quite the best way for you. If any of this applies to you, or if you’re just curious about the amazing story of human life, and life on earth, check out The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Mark Schultz, with illustrations by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon.
A graphic novel about DNA? How detailed could it get? Let me assure you, this is NOT a dumbed-down version of science—this book will give you all the info you need to pass a test, have an intelligent conversation, and decide if you want to do further reading on any specific topic, and its presented in a way that you’ve probably never seen it before. Framed as a report by an alien who has been to earth researching strategies for combating his own species' pervasive genetic disorders, The Stuff of Life covers everything from the origins of DNA to modern breakthroughs such as gene therapy and evolutionary genetics. While the format may seem a bit cheesy, it serves a great purpose. Just when you feel like you’re being bogged down with too many new words and concepts, there’s a break in the story as the king asks his subordinate to clarify what he just said. This allows for alternative metaphors and a slowing down of the information to allow you to take it all in. Having the information presented as both text and pictures gives you twice as many chances to understand both the building blocks of cells, genes, chromosomes, and DNA, and the more complex concepts of how inheritance works and how we are applying our knowledge of genetics. In addition to the main story, there are one-page detailed explanations of things such as the human team who first described the DNA structure, mutations, and how genetic information has been used (and manipulated) by politicians.
The format of this book makes it a fast read, though you may want to go back and look at things again as all the information sinks in and you start to make connections. There is also a thorough glossary, as well as a suggested further reading list (which includes magazines, books, and web sites) at the end of the book. Hear author Mark Schultz discussing the book in an NPR interview here, or check out an animation on What is a Nucleus here if you want to get more of an idea of what this unique book is all about. The Stuff of Life is a great introduction to the concepts of DNA and genetics for both teens and adults.