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Science Books

July 21, 2005

Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence
by Vincent Pieribone, David F. Gruber (January, 2006)
ISBN: 0674019210

In this… ahem… illuminating book, Vincent Pieribone, Associate Professor of Yale University School of Medicine, and David Gruber, a doctoral candidate in oceanography at Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, show us how a glowing jellyfish transformed molecular biology. Exceeding all expectations, the jellyfish's fluorescent protein has provided a tool that makes life easier for scientists studying anything from the human brain to some of the most feared diseases. But bioluminescence is not only a star in the world of molecular biology. Aglow in the Dark takes the reader on a journey tracking science's historic obsession with all things luminous. Some of the book's sojourns include coral reefs, oceans, medical schools and marine stations, in addition to what Russian scientists were doing with biofluorescence behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. It is a fascinating account of science and application, as we discover that biofluorescence also has uses in both war and forensic science. The topics raised are extremely complex ones, but the authors manage to successfully explain difficult biological and physical concepts in easily accessible terms.

The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong
by Donald Kroodsma (2005)
ISBN: 0618405682

In The Singing Life of Birds, Donald E. Kroodsma, an professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, drags himself away from thirty years of bird watching to write a book packed full of fascinating facts on bird behavior. It turns out that birds have just as many hang-ups as humans when it comes to fashions and trends in music. A bird may fail or succeed in mating, or getting along with neighboring birds, depending on its repertoire of bird songs, and how willing, or how capable, it is in adapting to the local birdsong top-ten. The book discusses thirty different birdsongs, which we can also listen to thanks to the accompanying CD included with the book. But there is much more to this book than you may first imagine. Anyone would know, for example, that each species has their own particular songs, but did you know that even within a species there are different dialects, as well as individual repertoires? After thirty years of field research you would expect Kroodsma to relinquish some intriguing biological insights, and on this count he doesn't disappoint. He enthusiastically and eloquently relates how birds acquire songs either by learning them or are born with them 'encoded somehow in nucleotide sequences of the DNA.' Kroodsma has managed to accumulate this interesting knowledge of birdsongs by using what are known as 'sonograms' (audio spectrograms that plot a sound frequency). While Kroodsma's own accounts of birdsongs are remarkable to say the least, he encourages all readers to get out there and start getting involved in appreciating the real thing. In this respect the book is part interactive, as Kroodsma offers instructional advice on how to 'see', or visualize, a bird song. What anyone will take from this book is Kroodsma's enthusiasm and his desire that as many people as possible walk in his shoes, and hear what he hears. 'There's no longer any mystique to what I have done all these years. Anyone can do this kind of stuff. And anyone should.'

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