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Mendel In The Kitchen: Scientist's View Of Genetically Modified Food
by Nina V. Fedoroff And Nancy Marie Brown
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From Publishers Weekly
Is genetically engineered Golden Rice (enriched with vitamin A) a dangerous "Frankenfood" or a safe, nutritionally enhanced food that could fill a major vitamin deficiency in the Third World? Fedoroff, a molecular biologist and member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and science writer Brown (A Good Horse Has No Color) argue forcefully for the latter view, saying we should embrace most of the advances genetic engineering has made in the agricultural arena. In an extremely accessible style, they take readers through the basics of genetics and genetic engineering to demonstrate why they believe that the risks associated with this technology are trivial. They also contend that the use of modern molecular technology to insert genes from one species into another isn't very different from the hybrid crosses that agriculturalists have been doing for millennia. Taking on concerns voiced by environmentalists, the authors articulate how genetically modified crops could reduce the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used and increase the yield of crop plants to keep up with a growing world population that could reach eight or nine billion in this century. Though likely to be controversial, the authors' clear and rational presentation could well change the opinions of some readers. Illus. not seen by PW.
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Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2004
"Brings rationality to the controversy now haunting the newest, most precise and most predictable manifestation of genetic modification -- gene-splicing."
Library Journal, October 15, 2004
"A real learning experience."
Science, October 29, 2004
"A clearly written history of plant breeding."
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS. Its a phrase ripped from the headlines, guaranteed to spark heated debate and generate contentious discussions. Concerned Europeans march in opposition to GM foods. African ports have been barricaded to prevent the unloading of genetically modified corn, despite the urgent needs of starving people. Canadians have mailed slices of bread to their prime minister to protest the use of genetically modified wheat. And in Australia, Greenpeace activists attached themselves to a cargo ship with magnets and painted "Stop GE imports" on its hull in their campaign against genetically modified food.
The truth is weve been changing the genetic makeup of our food for millennia, coaxing nature to do our bidding. Long before scientists understood what genes were and how they worked, early civilizations created wheat and corn. These crops, so very different from their wild grassy ancestors, represent mans early ventures in altering evolution. In time, plant breeders learned to stir up plant genes faster, using novel breeding methods, chemicals, and even radiation to produce such marvels as white blackberries and red grapefruit.
But it was the curiosity of a 19th-century Augustinian monk, Gregor Mendel, that ushered in the modern era of genetics. Mendel spent countless hours in his garden crossing pea plants to find out just how traits were inherited, finally arriving at the idea of the gene, the unit of inheritance that is at the heart of todays plant breeding strategies.
Mendels genetics turned molecular when Watson and Crick unveiled the structure of DNA in 1953. Within a few short decades, genes were understood to be DNA sequences that code for proteins using a universal genetic code. Genes could be moved easily between different organisms without losing their identity or changing their function. But the new terms that entered agriculture -- genetic engineering, biotechnology, genetic modification -- were disquieting. People began to ask questions about foods that theyd never asked plant breeders before: Is it safe to eat? Are these foods natural? Isnt it dangerous to fool with genes?
Nina Fedoroff, a leading expert in plant molecular biology and genetics, looks at the many issues raised by contemporary techniques for modifying food plants. She answers the most commonly asked questions -- and some we didnt think to ask. Fedoroff and her co-author, science writer Nancy Marie Brown, weave a narrative rich in history, technology, and science to dispel myths and misunderstandings. In the end, Fedoroff argues, the new molecular approaches hold the promise of being the most environmentally conservative way to increase our food supply, helping us to become better stewards of the earth while enabling us to feed ourselves and generations to come.
"...well prepared and well written, a pleasure to read. It will inform a wide range of readers about issues posed by genetically modified (GM) foods, hopefully contributing to elevation of the argument by inclusion of more scientific information." -- Eric M. Hallerman, professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Nancy Marie Brown has worked as a science writer since 1981. Until recently she was editor of Research/Penn State magazine. Her first book, A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, was published in 2001. She is currently editing the memoirs of an herbalist, working on a book about modern archaeology in Iceland, and writing about science and nature for children. She lives in a restored farmhouse on 100 acres in Vermont.
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