CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 29 . . . . March 30, 2018
Crabtree has added four titles to its "Engineering in Action" series (see reviews of previous books in the series in Volumes XX, Number 26 and XXIII, Number 19). These books expose students to the work of engineers in fields as diverse as energy systems and energy transportation, gene editing and the creation of genetically modified organisms, sensors and autonomous underwater vehicles that monitor ocean environments, and AI (artificial intelligence) robots and control systems.
Each 32-page book begins with a table of contents, explanation of what energy engineering, genetic engineering, ocean engineering or robotics engineering is, and a flow chart of the eight-step design process that engineers use to develop new technologies or provide solutions to real problems (see fourth excerpt above). Sandwiched between these introductory pages and a glossary and index at the end of each book are historical projects and contemporary challenges that just might encourage readers to consider engineering as a career.
In Genetic Engineering, Anne Rooney describes the work of genetic engineers as "changing the characteristics" of plants, animals, and mircoorganisms by adding or improving desirable characteristics and removing or reducing unwanted characteristics (p. 4). Such statements are quickly followed with a brief introduction to the inheritance of characteristics. This includes short descriptions of chromosomes, DNA, genes, and the proteins that are a consequence of the codes embedded in genes. Readers are told that it is proteins that genetic engineers first altered by "cutting open DNA and adding a new section" of DNA (p. 11). Rooney also mentions the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, and provides an historical context for humans changing plants (primarily crops) and animals (primarily farm animals) through processes of selective breeding. Knowledge of these breeding programs was a factor in Gregor Mendel's experiments with pea plants in the 1860s. Research on inheritance led to the discovery of chromosomes in 1903, gene splicing in the 1970s, and CRISPR-Cas9 in 2013. What's interesting about these new technologies is not only the speed at which changes to organisms can be made to occur, but that it becomes possible to add sections of the genetic material of one species to a different species for which interbreeding would not be possible. As a result, a bacterium with an insulin gene added to its genome can now supply an adequate volume of insulin for people with diabetes, and a gene from pout, an ocean fish, added to salmon causes the salmon to grow more quickly.
The remaining pages in Rooney's book describe the education required and the skills needed to become a genetic engineer as well as the requirements for working safely and ethically with laboratory animals and humans. Rooney mentions the tradeoffs and the debates surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), particularly the right to make changes to the genes in a viable single-celled human embryo. On pages 18-27, she takes readers through the phases of the design engineering process. The process begins with a problem, and the problem Rooney focuses upon is the need for a better milk formula for babies that mimics the complex mix of chemicals in human milk. Incorporated in these pages are also text boxes of information about other genetic engineering projects, such as the University of British Columbia's attempt to engineer a honey bee that is resistant to disease and the attempt by Russian scientist Sergey Zimov" to create a near mammoth" using mammoth and elephant DNA (p. 21). Just before the glossary and index, there is an opportunity for readers to plan a project, to become familiar with potential genetic engineering solutions to genetic diseases, pollution, the manufacture of medicines, engineering a bacterium that could produce plastics, and to locate books and websites and museums where more can be learned about this form of engineering.
Nixon's Energy Engineering and Sjonger's Ocean Engineering and Robotics Engineer follow a layout and design that is identical to Rooney's Genetic Engineering. Pages are filled with one to three stock photographs, and there is often more information in yellow text boxes than there is text printed on the blue pages that resemble the graph paper engineers use. Ten to thirteen-year olds who live in the prairies or landlocked provinces may be more interested in the books on robotics and genetics than ocean and energy engineering. However those with an interest in living sustainably on Earth and addressing issues such as renewable forms of energy, the impact of climate change on ocean currents and aquatic orgnaisms, self-driving vehicles, robotic suits that allow paralyzed children and adults to walk, and micro-robots that can flow through the circulatory system destroying blood clots and cleaning up plaque in arteries will be interested in all four of the new volumes in the "Energy in Action" series.
These books are highly recommended to school librarians and teachers who are interested in exposing their students to careers, particularly the fascinating careers that are pushing the boundaries of engineering in medicine, agriculture, ocean science, and the development of energy systems that don't pollute the land, air or water.
Dr. Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.