Ballen, K. G. (2013). Decoding our DNA: Craig Venter vs the Human Genome Project. Minneapolis. Twenty-First Century Books.
Plot: Decoding our DNA gives readers a cursory overview of genetics, DNA and genome sequencing. It then takes the reader on a wild goose chase as Craig Venter and The Human Genome Project race to be the first to map human DNA. This tense and high stakes competition led the two organizations to sequence human DNA years before they had imagined. Nonetheless, decoding the complexities of human DNA ended up being a highly political and highly expensive endeavor.
Recommendation: This book is comprehensive and thoroughly explains the beginnings of genome sequencing and how human DNA was finally decoded. With all thoroughness aside, however, I did not like this book. To me, it was written like a textbook and did not do much to draw the reader in. Although the race between Venter and The Human Project could have been in an interesting narrative style, the author chose not to go this route. Instead, the reader is left with stale dry text.
Topic: Science- Genetics
Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile Measure: 1070; Grade Level Equivalent: 7-12; Pages: 64
Qualitative Reading Analysis:
Organization/Format: The book is divided into 6 chapters. Relevant quotes as well as notable individuals in the field are highlighted throughout the book. Back matter includes a glossary, index, timeline, bibliography and source notes.
Language Demands: There are a lot of complex science terms in the text. Teachers should go over the terms in the glossary with the students before reading the book with them.
Knowledge Demands: Students should know about genetics and The Human Genome Project before reading this book. The book is a difficult read if students do not have some background knowledge of the subject.
Meaning/Purpose: The purpose of this book is to teach the readers about the race to decode human DNA.
Content/Subject Area & Standards:
9-10 ELA: (Missouri Learning Standards)
1 Comprehend and Interpret Texts (Approaching Texts as a Reader)-
A. Draw conclusions, infer and analyze by citing relevant and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
B. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative, connotative, and content-specific meanings using context, affixes, or reference materials.
C. Interpret visual elements of a text including those from different media and draw conclusions from them (when applicable).
High School Science: (Missouri Learning Standards)
LS3 – Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits-
9-12-LS 3-1 Develop and use models to clarify relationships about how DNA in the form of chromosomes is passed from parents to offspring through the processes of meiosis and fertilization in sexual reproduction.
9-12-LS3- 4 Make and defend a claim that inheritable genetic variations may result from: (1) new genetic combinations through meiosis, (2) mutations occurring during replication, and/or (3) mutations caused by environmental factors. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using data to support arguments for the way variation occurs.]
- Check out this cool activity: Students use edible materials to create a model of a double helix.
- In this activity, students will map out the DNA of a dog.
Links to Supporting Content:
DNA from the Beginning– This is a comprehensive site about genetics from Mendel’s findings to present day. It is user-friendly and explains heredity in laymen’s terms.
Genetic Education Resources for Teachers-This site has many resources for teachers to use for students. Includes games, PowerPoint slides, lesson plans and helpful links.