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

By: Bridget Heos

Illustrator: Andy Comins

To create super-strong materials, scientists are trying to make large amounts of spider silk—by placing spider DNA in alfalfa, silkworms, and goats. Glossary. Additional sources. Index. Black-and-white and full-color photographs.
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ISBN: 9780547681269


Sensitive Areas: None
Topics: Biology , Spiders , Spider webs , DNA , Innovation , Transgenic organisms

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Nonfiction Middle

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Awards & Honors

NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2014

Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Booklist, The Horn Book Guide, Publishers Weekly*, School Library Journal

School Library Journal

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 wov 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

Junior Library Guild

  • Readers will enjoy learning fascinating facts about spider silk—and will be impressed by the amazing strength of this seemingly flimsy substance.
  • Scientists’ strange and inventive attempts to create mass amounts of spider silk by creating mutant versions of other animals and plants provides a fun way to learn about DN
    • Readers will enjoy learning fascinating facts about spider silk—and will be impressed by the amazing strength of this seemingly flimsy substance.
    • Scientists’ strange and inventive attempts to create mass amounts of spider silk by creating mutant versions of other animals and plants provides a fun way to learn about DNA. In describing the creation of transgenic silkworms, for instance, Bridget Heos writes: “[Florence Teulé] explains that when she and the team engineered the spider silk gene, they linked it to a red eye gene. If the silkworms had red eyes, the team knew that the caterpillars had the spider silk gene. A fluorescent gene was also linked to the spider silk gene. It was hoped that silkworms with the spider silk gene would spin fluorescent silk.”
    • Heos’s candor about various experiments and their successes and failures not only teaches about the scientific process; it also makes readers feel involved in this exciting quest and provides material for a discussion of scientific ethics.
    • Bright, attractive photographs help present the ideas and processes described.

Book Details

ISBN

9780547681269

Genre

Nonfic

Dewey Classification

595.4/4

Trim Size

11" x 9"

Page Count

80

Accelerated Reader

Level 6.2; Points: 3;

Scholastic Reading Counts

Level 5.6; Points: 7;

Lexile

Level 860L

Format

Print Book

Edition

Hardcover edition

Publisher

Houghton Mifflin

Potentially Sensitive Areas

None

Topics

Biology, Spiders, Spider webs, DNA, Innovation, Transgenic organisms,

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