From Publishers Weekly
Green fluorescent pigment (GFP), made naturally by jellyfish, has recently sparked a biological revolution. "GFP is a fantastically useful protein" because it can monitor and track other proteins "inside a living organism, without disrupting any molecular processes." As Connecticut College chemist Zimmer shows, scientists have cloned the gene for GFP and attached it to other genes in a wide array of organisms, from rabbits to monkeys and fish. When these other genes are turned on, GFP is produced and individual cells begin to glow. The diagnostic uses for this technique are critically important and varied. GFP may help with the early diagnosis of cancer, with tracking the spread of pathogenic bacteria and may provide a relatively quick and easy assay for anthrax, among other exciting uses. Additionally, GFP has already helped scientists better understand developmental processes in organisms, which may lead to cures for such diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. While Zimmer is moderately successful in presenting the excitement associated with these breakthroughs, his clumsy prose often gets in the way of his message. His transitions between topics are so obtuse that much of his text reads like a series of extended digressions. Zimmer is at his best when explaining basic biology and chemistry; as his subject gets more complex, his explanations become more difficult to follow.
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It is the topic of numerous technical papers, reports chemistry professor Zimmer, but it rarely surfaces in the mass media unless the biotechnologists whip up something astonishingly weird. It is green fluorescent protein (GFP), by which fireflies and jellyfish illuminate themselves, and for which the cloners have found numerous potential applications. One of GFP's infrequent references in the news concerned Alba the fluorescent rabbit, displayed as an exhibit of "transgenic art." Drawing attention to this arena of genetic engineering, Zimmer describes what can be done with GFP, whether benevolent (testing the efficacy of disinfectants, replacing radioactive tests as detectors of cancer), frivolous (creating fluorescent pets), or alarming (cloning people in unnatural colors). Acknowledging the dual-edged bioethical ramifications of GFP, Zimmer does not elaborate on them but remains informatively focused on lab research. He also profiles the principal scientists who isolated GFP, found its causative gene, and determined its molecular shape. A timely alert on a fast-changing biotechnology. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved