Posts Tagged book clubs

STEM Tuesday– Genetics– Writing Tips & Resources



It’s February. The month of love. The perfect month to declare my love of genetics to the STEM Tuesday world in the passionate execution of my Week 3 Writing Craft & Resources post. I love genetics!

It is more than mere fate or blind luck that the STEM Tuesday schedule and my posting schedule aligned for February 2023. The STEM nonfiction universe knows.

Genetics + Me = #ForLife.

But what does all that have to do with a Writing Craft & Resources post? Bear with me, please, through my soliloquy on genetics.

Genetics had me at my first Punnett square. Just like Mendel and his pea plants or Barbara McClintock and her corn chromosomes, genetics had me hooked from the get-go. The idea that life has a blueprint and we have the ability to study and define it captured the teenage me as much as sports had. As a son of a civil engineer who designed and built bridges and highways, plus, as someone just getting into computer programming on my Texas Instruments TI-64, I was hooked on the coded blueprint of life for life.

Then deoxyribonucleic acid came along. The fundamental code of life. Adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). Four chemical bases attach to a sugar-phosphate backbone to form a nucleotide. Four bases that pair with one another (A-T and C-G) in a particular order to form a double-helix strand of DNA and the chromosome. Just about everything we see in the living world is built from the order of those four bases. A, T, C, and G, coded in the chromosome blueprint. 

The genetic information coded in our DNA is transcribed into a specific protein in the central dogma of genetics, DNA→RNA→Protein. The triplet code is the key to the central dogma during the transcription of the DNA code. The cell’s machinery reads the code three nucleotide bases at a time and makes RNA copies of them which, in turn, code for one of 20 amino acids used to construct a protein. 

Humans have about 38 trillion cells in the body and each of those cells contains the code for ~20,000 genes within its chromosomes. The total length of the DNA in one cell is six feet. That’s a lot of DNA needing to be intricately folded to fit inside the cell’s nucleus! Each cell transcribes the proper genes at the proper time to make the proper proteins it needs to function. The cell must keep the genetic code organized while maintaining its integrity and repairing any damage to the code. Add to that, the need to faithfully replicates itself for future progeny cells so mistakes in the code, called mutations, don’t get passed to the next generation of cells. 

This molecular dance of life. with its high level of fidelity. never ceases to blow my mind.

I’ve made a career chasing DNA. I’ve cloned it and I’ve sequenced it. I’ve digested, purified, manipulated, mutated, labeled, edited, and analyzed it. Everything I’ve done in three decades of science revolves around A, T, C, and G. And even after all this time, there is still so much that I don’t know about genetics and DNA and the molecular dance of life, which brings me back to writing. 

Everybody knows writing is work. It’s hard work but, similar to genetics, it is also work that has me hooked. Also like genetics, there’s is still so much I need to learn about writing, even after decades of writing. Just as there are the tools of genetics, writers have tools. Letters, words, structure, and grammar are the nucleotide bases (A/T/C/G), genes, chromosomes, and triplet code of genetics. 

Word→Sentence→Paragraph is the writer’s central dogma. Finding the right words to describe our ideas and transcribing them in legible form is what we attempt to do as writers. 

When I teach what we do in our lab or speak to students about genetics and genetic mutations, I use a little paper demonstration called CAT TAG. It’s based on transcription using the triplet code defined above. I use it to describe how important it is to preserve the correct sequence and fidelity of the triplet code when we are cloning or mutating a gene for further analysis.

Here’s the imaginary DNA code sequence I use for the CAT TAG gene demonstration:


If we start transcribing at the “ATG” start codon signal, we get frolicking felines playing an adorable game of CAT TAG protein.


What happens when we inadvertently insert a base in the gene?


We get nonsense and no more frolicking feline protein. Where did my adorable cats go!!!


The same thing happens when we delete a base in the gene. Nonsense and no cats!



Even more frightful, what if a whole CAT codon gets deleted?


Argghh!!!!! Ouch!!! Now I’m tagging the cat and the cat does not appreciate it! Ouch!


Writing is like the CAT TAG gene game. Finding the right order and sequence of words to express ideas is the ultimate goal. The skill and magic of revision lie not only in the order and sequence but in finding the best words to express the idea. No more or no less. Make sure additions or subtractions fit properly.

The goal is to find the adorable cats playing tag version of your writing without creating confusion, nonsense, or attacking felines. 



Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal-opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and on Instagram at @mikehays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s version of the O.O.L.F.(Out of Left Field) Files explores revision tips, genetics history with two of the faces on the Mount Rushmore of genetics, a lesson in genetic expression, and CRISPR gene editing at home. 

Kirsten W. Larson’s Revision Tip: Unwriting Your Draft blog post

Barbara McClintock

Gregor Mendel

The fabulous Punnett square

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Plant & Soil Science Learning Module

CRISPR at Home




STEM Tuesday– Genetics– Book List



Genes play an important role in determining what makes us us. Dive right into these books, which are great resources on genes, DNA, and cutting-edge technology that holds a lot of promise for the future.

Genetics (A True Book: Greatest Discoveries and Discoverers) 

by Christine Taylor-Butler

Scientists now know that genes are the blueprint for life, but many years ago they didn’t. They discovered it when they attempted to change the traits of living things by altering their genes. Learn about the a-ha moments these scientists had; and more, with this engaging text




The DNA Book

by Alison Woollard

A colorful, interesting book with an in-depth look at DNA and its role in our lives: what DNA does, why we look like our parents, how DNA evidence helps catch criminals, genetic engineering, and more.




The Human Genome

The Human Genome: Mapping the Blueprint of Human Life

by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Tom Casteel

All about the human genome, and how understanding it has added to our knowledge in fields like medicine and human history. With hands-on STEM activities, and discussions on the social and ethical issues of genomic science, this book is a fascinating peek into the world of genetics.




The Code Breaker -- Young Readers Edition


The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna and the Race to Understand our Genetic Code

by Walter Isaacson, Adapted for young readers by Sarah Durand

An account of how Nobel Prize Winner Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues launched CRISPR, a tool that can edit DNA, and a discussion of its potential, and the associated moral implications.





CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA

by Yolanda Ridge, illustrated by Alex Boersma

An engaging book, with detailed illutsrations that explains CRISPR, and the potential it has in the fields of medicine, food and conservation.




Blood, Bullets and Bone: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA

by Bridget Heos

A history of modern forensic science right from the 1700s to modern times, with its advanced technology, including DNA testing, which has changed the world of forensic science.



Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Science Activities for Kids (Build It Yourself)

by Laura Perdew (Author), Tom Casteel (Illustrator)

Calling all middle schoolers who are curious about life on earth and its biodiversity. This hands-on STEM-based book is filled with activities to engage critical thinking, as well as lead readers to explorations of the biodiversity around them. 


I Can Be a Science Detective: Fun STEM Activities for Kids 

by Claudia Martin

Simple hands-on experiments on how to catch a thief, extract DNA from strawberries, and much more!


Extract DNA with Rosalind Franklin: Women in Science Interactive Book With Illustrations

Rosalind Franklin is a known chemist and x-ray crystallographer who is passionate about DNA. She loves sharing her knowledge about this fantastic discovery:  she was the first person to discover the shape of DNA! With her expert guidance, readers will be able to experiment at home and make discoveries for themselves. 




She Persisted: Rosalind Franklin


She Persisted: Rosalind Franklin

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Chelsea Clinton, Alexandra Boiger (Illustrator), Gillian Flint (Illustrator)

A biography of the amazing woman who persisted in following her dreams to become a scientist and played an important role in the discovery of the shape of the DNA.





Saving the Tasmanian Devil: How Science is Helping the World’s Largest Marsupial Carnivore Survive

by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

This book describes how scientists are working to prevent and eradicate genetic diseases, and helping to save Tasmanian Devils, which are dying in large numbers due a deadly disease.




De-Extinction: The Science of Bringing Lost Species Back to Life

by Rebecca E. Hirsch

This book explains how scientists are trying to reverse extinction and bring back species to life, using techniques like cloning. It also discusses the pros and cons of de-extinction.






Susan Summers is a wildlife enthusiast and an author. Contact her at:



Shruthi Rao is an author. Her home on the web is



STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– In the Classroom



Nuclear science is the study of the atomic world. Atoms are the building blocks of all matter, and everything around us, including our bodies, is made of atoms.

Students can explore the ways nuclear science impacts our world in these books:

Who Split The Atom? by Anna Claybourne  Using a DK-like format, it explores the early history and research into the structure of atoms, the periodic table, radioactivity, and atomic science. Loaded with photographs, graphics, “That’s A Fact!,” “Breakthrough,” and scientific sidebars, as well as vignettes of scientists, it is an accessible and engaging introduction to radioactivity.


Atomic Universe: The Quest To Discover Radioactivity by Kate Boehm Jerome  This National Geographic book uses a running timeline across the top of the pages (from 1800 to 1971), photographs, mini-biographies, and “science booster” sidebars to interest high-low readers in an introductory overview of radioactivity, atomic science, and nuclear reactors.



How is nuclear energy produced? In nuclear fission, the nucleus of a uranium atom splits into tiny atoms. The splitting produces two or three free neutrons and releases a large amount of energy. In a nuclear reactor, fission is used to make atomic energy. Divide students into groups and have each group research the process of nuclear fission. Each group should create a visual demonstration of nuclear fission and present it to the class. Get creative! 


Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima by Deirdre Langeland On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high that ripped apart homes and schools, damaging Fukushima’s nuclear power plant and causing a nuclear meltdown. Chapters describe the events as well as the science of nuclear reactors. Each section begins with a readout of reactor status, from “offline” to “meltdown” with the last chapter exploring lessons learned.



Nuclear energy is a much-debated topic. In this activity, students will decide whether or not to support building a nuclear power plant in their town to provide electricity and replace fossil fuel-generated electricity. Divide the class into two groups – one group will support the building of the nuclear power plant, while the other group will oppose it. Have each group research nuclear energy and power and find facts and arguments to support their point of view. Hold a classroom debate and have each side present their strongest arguments for and against the nuclear power plant.


Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling  This gripping dual biography provides an in-depth look at the discoveries, life-long personal sacrifices, and professional struggles that Irène Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie made in discovering artificial radiation and Lise Meitner made in discovering nuclear fission. It also touches on Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of natural radiation, society’s grappling with radiation, World War II, and the atomic bomb. Includes a timeline, Who’s Who section, black and white photos, and fascinating sidebars further explaining the science.


Radiation exists all around us. It is produced as unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay, and travels as energy waves or energized particles. There are many different forms of radiation, each with its own properties and effects. What sources of radiation are you exposed to in your daily life? Have students research radiation sources and create a list of exposures. They can use this calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate their annual radiation dose.  What can students do to reduce or limit radiation exposure in their lives?


Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and a dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her online at, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, Instagram @moonwriter25, and Twitter @carlawrites.