On track with Plant Trek

Dr Richard Stout's free ‘book’ is entitled Plant Trek, and is focused on GM (genetic modification/manipulation/meddling)/GE (genetic engineering) and plants
Image: Richard Stout, Plant Trek.
Image: Richard Stout, Plant Trek.

What’s better than a book on plant biology? A free book on plant biology! So, let’s applaud the latest initiative from Washington (USA)-based Dr Richard Stout (the ‘plant guy’ who blogs regularly on botanical matters at ‘How Plants Work’) whose ‘book’ entitled Plant Trek is available as a free PDF download. In keeping with its Star Trek, futuristic focus – on GM (genetic modification/manipulation/meddling)/GE (genetic engineering) and plants – it is sub-titled ‘To boldly go where no plant has gone before’, and sub-sub-titled ‘On the past, present & future of plant genetic engineering’. Split infinitive aside, the book deals more with gene-splicing than splitting, and is concerned not with science fiction, but with science fact. But, and as Stout admits, Plant Trek is not a comprehensive textbook on plant genetic engineering and biotechnology. And neither is it a compilation of his blog items (though to have collated the GM-themed items in one place would be no bad thing in itself). Rather, it is intended ‘for people who may be curious about plant genetic engineering’. Since that latter demographic includes members of every cohort imaginable, Plant Trek should be a great resource that can be deployed in a number of settings, whether one is looking for a user-friendly way to teach botanical GM to undergraduates or to employ on those missions to widely reach out and touch the minds of the lay-people of planet Earth. Indeed, the book is intended for people who may be curious about plant genetic engineering, but who don’t want to read a long, technical textbook on the subject (so, ideal for most undergraduates…). And with chapters such as ‘Where Do New Plants Come From?’, ‘How To Make A Transgenic Plant’, ‘Gene Guns, Terminators & Traitors’, ‘Farmaceuticals, Plantibodies & Edible Vaccines’, ‘Into The Wild’, and ‘Are GM Plants Self-Replicating Inventions?’, it covers the spectrum of past and present facets of, and concerns over, this relatively new technology. It also peers into the future a little with its penultimate chapter, ‘Plant Trek – The Next Generation’. And it’s bang up-to-date with its final chapter – ‘DIY Plant Genetic Engineering’ – which examines the phenomenon of ‘garage biology’ and ‘bio-hacking’. This brave new world of the so-called ‘DIY DNA hobbyist’ and ‘DNA accessoriser’ is exemplified by Antony Evans’ ‘Glowing Plants: Natural Lighting with no Electricity’ project. Despite being a ‘self-published’ tome, Plant Trek is academically rigorous and contains links to relevant academic articles and other web-resources (yes, even good old Wikipedia…). What’s not to like (and it’s FREE!)? Cheers, Richard.

[And if you’re interested in other ‘different’ ways of getting academic, plant biology messages across, why not check out Liam O’Donnell’s Understanding Photosynthesis with Max Axiom, Super Scientist’. It’s a ‘graphic novel’ about… photosynthesis that’s targeted at the 8–14 year-olds. Sadly, it’s not free, but it did win the 2008 Teachers’ Choice Award for Children’s Books. And if you want more photosynthesis, there’s always ‘A Leaf in Time – A Popular Introduction to Photosynthesis’ by the University of Sheffield (UK)’s Emeritus Professor of Photosynthesis, David Walker, which is free… – Ed.]