CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005
The deep sea is just one of several habitats author Elin Kelsey invites readers to examine closely in Strange New Species. While the attention of many scientists is focused on the far reaches of space as the best place to probe for new life forms, it appears our own planet has yet to reveal much of its diversity. Venture into the rainforest, extreme habitats (salt water, high altitudes, the Antarctic), the past, in fact just about anywhere, and you'll be amazed at the discoveries of new species that are being made. Why now? Recent advances in technology have led to speedy DNA analysis, remotely operated vehicles and miniaturization in the field of global positioning tools. New species are turning up in places no one could reach before, and being identified and classified as biologists examine "their genetic codes and can study relationships between species in ways they only dreamed of a decade ago."
New data is coming to light so fast that Kelsey admits some of the scientists consulted in her initial stages of research "had changed their interpretations of their work by the time the book was published." Yet this book is packed with the latest jaw-dropping details: eg. in addition to the 751,000 known insects, millions are still undiscovered; human and chimpanzee genes share 99.4% of the most important DNA; a single water sample from the Sargasso Sea yielded 1,800 new species; mosquitoes that have evolved to live in the London Underground may be descendants of some that entered the tunnels more than 100 years ago. And did you know there are 30,000 deep-sea mountains but only five have been explored?
In a conversational writing style that young readers will find inviting, Kelsey clearly shows she enjoys her topic. On every page, intriguing facts will encourage kids to sharpen their observation skills whether in a city park or considering their own bacteria-rich mouths. Sidebars throughout the book will inspire debate about such issues as the impact of commercial fishing trawlers' nets on marine ecosystems, whether microbes exist in specific locations or simply everywhere, whether the evidence of water on Mars means new species exist there, whether cloning is or is not a good idea. Most exciting, perhaps, is a hint of even more new technology in the future. Being developed in Canada is a "handheld barcoder [that] will provide instant access to a species' identity, its exact location, and all the natural history information available on the World Wide Web."
The author brings impressive personal credentials to this fascinating book, along with an extensive list of scientists consulted during her research. Generous use of photos adds to the appeal and understanding of the book's contents, as do the Researcher Profiles that show youngsters they, too, can pursue a career in the many facets of science. A Glossary will help decode some of the technical terms, and selected Websites are provided for kids to satisfy their appetite for more of the latest science.
Gillian Richardson, a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian, lives in BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.