A Peachy Books graphic showing a thorn crown and a diagram of the planets revolving around the sun, on a sand coloured background, that says What Did Jesus and Galileo Have in Common? in brown lettering.
Blog Roll, book reviews, Kids Books, Middle Grade, non-fiction, Sciences

What Did Jesus and Galileo Have In Common?

One might think that the Father of modern science would bear no commonality with the Father of Christianity (son when in the flesh), but there were similarities. 

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, and Galileo’s last name was Galilei. Ok, maybe that one is a coincidence. More to the point, both were courageous enough to challenge previously held beliefs about the universe, and both were (at best) misunderstood and punished for their messages. Galileo lived the last of his days under house arrest, and Jesus perished on the cross.

Whether a Christian, a follower of science, or a believer in both, one must admit that history shows how people have rejected change and are unwilling to accept new ideas, beliefs, or innovations.

How is it that we remain unaccepting with thousands of years of separation and drastically different lives? Fear of the unknown is a timeless contributing factor, to be sure, yet I am inclined to believe it is the voices at the top that lead the charge who have the most influence over what is allowed as truth. 

No matter what point in history, there has always been a narrative elicited by those in the power positions, who seek to keep things as they are and as they can control. The proletariat, continually the victims of the prevailing propaganda du jour via politicians and other governmental authorities. By design, the controlling force directs the thoughts of the masses, inert in their apathy, as they are either too comfortable or too afraid to ask questions, myself included.

A people divided are a people easily controlled. Polarisation being the continually viable schtick used by the puppet masters to obfuscate what they benefit from behind, and off, the backs of the citizenry.

The time to question everything is now, like never before. The mechanisms to assist those at the top when manipulating our minds are perfectly manifest in the modern technologies of AI, social media, and the internet at large.

I do not expect change, as this has been the way since time immemorial, but I also cannot help but feel that given the current technologies mentioned, we have the power to turn some of this on its face.

It feels like we are at a fork in the road. If we could only band the people together, we could use the technology that they are so skillfully using against us, to unify and defend against their divide and conquer. 

Am I a dreamer? Probably. But I prefer dreaming big over accepting a scripted nightmare designed to keep me hating my fellow man. I have never been one to roll over and play dead, no matter how impossible things seem, so with something as important as our children’s future as a driving force, I sure as hell am not going to start now. 

There is always common ground to be found, even when belief systems and world views appear to be opposed. You must, however, be willing to look.

Below you will find my reviews for the two Who HQ series volumes detailing the very different, yet sometimes similar, Jesus and Galileo. 

Book cover for Who Was Galileo? by Patricia Brennan Demuth showing a bobble-headed Galileo holding on to a telescope on top of a roof, with a globe sitting beside him.

Who Was Galileo? was the Who HQ book that sparked my, and my son’s, love of this informative and fun series. We were so excited to try out one of these slim, non-fiction paperbacks with the amusing bobblehead covers when searching the library’s website.

We highly enjoyed the rudimentary summary of Galileo’s experiments and discoveries and were deeply frustrated by all that he had to deal with when battling the Inquisition in Rome.

Galileo’s defence of the belief originally put forth by the mathematician Copernicus – that the planets, including Earth, orbited around the sun – was contradictory to the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe and everything else orbited it. 

The Catholic Church, at that time, saw the denial of Aristotle’s beliefs to be heresy, and as such Galileo became disgraced and was banished to house arrest for the last eight years of his life. 

Eventually, in 1992, Pope John Paul II proclaimed his despair over the church having persecuted Galileo and his later proven scientific assertions. Too little too late, as they say, but a nod to science and truth, nonetheless.

After enjoying its concise information and the black and white sketches adorned throughout, I decided to take a peek and see if there were any more books in the series available at my favourite discount bookstore. As it turned out, there was a whole slew of these little historical gems just waiting for me, and we now have a big pile to draw from, so stay tuned for our thoughts. 

Book cover for Who Was Jesus? from the Who HQ series, written by Ellen Morgan showing an illustration of Jesus standing by the waters edge with a basket of fish, and fisherman on a boat out in the water.

After being absorbed by the book Who Was Galileo? a couple of weeks ago, my son and I immediately placed an order for a tonne more of the series. I may have gone a little crazy, but they were a good deal, so… Each book offers an escape into the life of a fascinating figure, but after sifting halfway through the pile the lad selected Who Was Jesus? as our first.

My husband and son are of Greek descent, and all of us are baptised Greek Orthodox, so stories about Jesus are not new to our reading rotation. Although not extensive, the timeline gave an appropriate and complete picture of Jesus’ story for my 8-year-olds intellect.

We learned about: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his disciples, the miracles he administered, his enemies, his Crucifixion, the Gospels, and symbols of the Christian faith. We also enjoyed the section that detailed how Jesus was represented in Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.

Again, I was impressed by the breadth of information provided in such a slim book. The sketches add a richness to the narrative that will keep readers riveted. I am sure most of you have read these already, and I am just late, but if you have not yet, get into them, you won’t be disappointed!

Today’s post is bought to you by the Beatles! Please stop and enjoy this musical interlude to brighten up your busy day. 😉

Graphic for the Klara and the Sun Book Review Read-a-Loud at peachybooks today, with the red book cover showing a hand holding a sun, with a forest of trees in the background and rays of sunshine emitting through the trunks
Blog Roll, Saturday in Stereo, science fiction, Sciences

Is AI An Answer To The Loneliness Epidemic?

Where will this technology take us? This week on Saturday in Stereo listen to the Peachy Books review for Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, written and read aloud by PeachyTO.

Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest Read-a-Louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!

To find the written review for Klara and the Sun and see the Sunshine bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.

Graphic for Peachy Books Book Review Read-a-Loud for The One by John Marrs with a graphic of a red and blue dna strand with a heart overtop that shows the cover of the book and has the text saying to listen today at peachybooks.ca
Blog Roll, Contemporary Fiction, Saturday in Stereo, Sciences

Get DNA matched with your soulmate for the guarantee of true love?

What could possibly go wrong? This week on Saturday in Stereo listen to the Peachy Books review for The One by John Marrs, read aloud by PeachyTO.

Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest read-a-louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!

To find the written review for The One and see the DNA Strand bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.

Cover for the book review for The Code Breaker with crochet bookmark of a spike protein.
book reviews, non-fiction, Sciences

Book Review: The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

Book Cover for The Code Breaker - Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

The Code Breaker – Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and The Future of The Human Race by Walter Isaacson

‘”We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future…” He was going to say “future World controllers,” but correcting himself, said “future Directors of Hatcheries.”‘ – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (as quoted in The Code Breaker)

As of the writing of this review, it has been fifteen long, isolating months since my family and I have been in the perpetual Groundhog Day that is Coronavirus lockdown. We haven’t hugged our families, there have been no birthday parties in the backyard, no friends over to play. But we have kept the roof over our heads, our bellies are full, and we fiercely love each other – possibly more now than ever before – as we continue to forge our path through this crazy labyrinth of plague and despair. It is the journey through said maze that has led me to The Code Breaker, as I try to understand what direction is best chosen for my family.

I have never been against vaccination, and can safely say that everyone in my house is fully immunized for all the standard diseases. That said, after having heard that there was a new type of technology being used for the Corona shots, a type of injection that would change my DNA and insert a microchip in my body (Whoa!), I was quick to put on the brakes. I then pondered that it may be time to delete a few of my YouTube subscriptions.

To be clear, I don’t have a tendency to get my science from conspiracy hypotheses, memes, or my friend Sarah who flunked out of grade eleven biology; I like to make informed decisions. Not to knock Sarah, though, because I have no postsecondary science knowledge to draw on, myself. I do, however, like to read, so I thought the best place to start would be to try and understand what the mRNA vaccines were about. I can somewhat confidently say that after having read about the revolutionary CRISPR technology, and Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues’ discoveries in Walter Isaacson’s extremely thought-provoking and enlightening book, I am not going to win any Nobel prize for scientific comprehension, but I think I have a handle on the basics. I’m essentially saying that I no longer feel like the machines are trying to take over… at least not yet.

This almost 500-page book was not like reading a textbook, where if you aren’t passionate about the subject, it just drones on and you have to pry your eyelids open with your fingers – or maybe that was just me in college, but I digress. Not only a story about the fascinating life of Doudna, and the crazy ride through competition and innovation that she and her collaborators and opponents lived through over the past few decades, we are also invited to question how we feel about these new frontiers that humanity is being dragged into with the advent of somatic and germline gene editing.

From the first chapter, I had an emotional connection to the story, as I felt grateful that Doudna had the internal fortitude not to listen to the many teachers who in various different ways insisted that “Girls don’t do science.” She shares that at the time it was hurtful to her, but it also stiffened her resolve and caused her to focus on her goals. She remembered telling herself “I will show you. If I want to do science, I am going to do it.”

Doudna, under the tutelage of Jack Szostak, was a pioneer in the research of RNA as a major player in the origins of life, monstrously widening the scope from how it had once been considered a dull intermediary to the proteins doing the lion’s share of the work in human cells. Ever the valorous adventurer, she gave into curiosity and took the risk of doing her doctoral research in this ground-breaking area of study, while other biochemists were choosing to focus on the sequencing research for DNA with regard to The Human Genome Project.

She credits Jack for sharing his guiding principle: Never do something that a thousand other people are doing. She said, “I learned from Jack that there was more of a risk but also more of a reward if you ventured into a new arena.”

In 1989 Doudna received her PhD from Harvard. She then went on to do her postdoctoral studies in Colorado, with Tom Chech, a man that she both respected and admired, namely for his discovery of self-splicing introns, and for leading the very best RNA biochemistry lab, at the time.

On the heels of Doudna and her future husband – then workmate in Chech’s lab – Jamie Cate, unveiling their grand discovery of the three-dimensional structure of RNA, she suffered the news that she would lose her father to melanoma. Sadly, the cancer had metastasized to his brain, and he was given only a short time to live. He was her biggest champion, and in the last months of his life she regaled him with the details of their massive breakthrough.

“It was only after he died that I realized how influential he was in my decision to become a scientist.”

As sad as those days were for her, their groundbreaking findings were the catalyst to Doudna and her colleagues putting in place the tools that could edit genes. During a TV interview for a science news show, when explaining what the implications of such technology could be, she said, “One possibility is that we might be able to cure or treat people who have genetic defects.”

As RNA discoveries continued to flourish, so did the significance and necessity such findings would have in the future of vaccines. Spanish Molecular Biologist Francis Mojica discovered palindrome-like, repeating segments of DNA, in the 90s, and ended up creating the defining acronym – CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), which was excepted on November 21, 2001 as the appropriate moniker.

‘Mojica found that bacteria with CRISPR spacer sequences seemed to be immune from infection by a virus that had the same sequence. But bacteria without the spacer did get infected. It was a pretty ingenious defense system, but there was something even cooler: it appeared to adapt to new threats. When new viruses came along, the bacteria that survived were able to incorporate some of that virus’s DNA and thus create, in its progeny, an acquired immunity to that new virus. Mojica recalls being so overcome with emotion at this realization that he got tears in his eyes. The beauty of nature can sometimes do that to you.’

After marriage and the birth of their son, Doudna and Cate were both offered a professorship at UC Berkley. Part of Doudna’s genius was her ability as an effective leader. The emphasis she put on assembling a team in her lab that had chemistry (pardon the pun), so that ideas would collaborate and flow instead of egos or combative competition causing objectives to be stifled, was cherished by her underlings.

‘The camaraderie in the lab was not an accident: in hiring, Doudna placed as much emphasis on making sure someone was a good fit as she did assessing their research accomplishments.’

While she preferred and encouraged her team to be self-sufficient and independently driven, she still offered guidance and had a knack for asking creative questions, that lead to big ideas and new projects. She offered the right amount of challenge to inspire her team to be bold and brave in their endeavours. Her engagement in a project would increase when it came nearer to completion, as her excitement would see her wanting a competitive edge over other labs who may beat hers to a discovery.

The truly revolutionising work came when Jennifer Doudna and Martin Jinek collaborated with Emmanuelle Charpentier and Krzysztof Chylinski, as they attempted to figure out the mechanisms of the CRISPR-Cas9 enzyme. It was determined that – as Jinek informed Doudna – “Without the tracrRNA, the crRNA guide does not bind to the Cas9 enzyme.” Doudna would go on to win the Nobel Prize with Charpentier in 2020, for their pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing.

‘This amazing little system, it quickly became clear, had a truly momentous potential application: the crRNA guide could be modified to target any DNA sequence you might wish to cut. It was programmable. It could become an editing tool.’

How CRISPR Works diagram as published in The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

The race to prove that CRISPR-Cas9 could work in human cells became fierce, and was realised in roughly six months in five different labs within the scientific community. Although, admittedly, the scientific and technical jargon became difficult to follow at times, there was often an under thread of competition and excitement that kept me reading. It almost became a sport, and I was in the stands rooting for my team to be first to the finish.

Doudna’s most direct opponent in the field of CRISPR research and technology appeared to be Feng Zhang. Although healthy competition can inspire innovation and unleash creativity, I couldn’t help but wonder how much ego and competitiveness had slowed progress of this very important research. They seemed to have differing skill sets, and that had they worked together in the race to turn CRISPR into a human gene-editing tool, things may have happened smoother and/or sooner. Putting a practical need for alliances aside, intellectual property disputes and competition for patents and prizes made for an interesting and sometimes even thrilling journey throughout The Code Breaker.

Somatic editing – changes that are made in targeted cells of a living patient and do not affect reproductive cells – is currently being used for gene editing, and is helping to eliminate blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia, aiding in the detection and treatment of cancer, as well as assisting in a cure for a form of congenital blindness. While it is true that I am no expert in … well, anything really, (except maybe crochet,) I can see nothing wrong ethically with carrying out these kinds of treatments, most certainly if funding can be made available through all socioeconomic communities. With insurance companies being as lucrative as they are, is it naive of me to think that with government regulation this could be attainable? If the incidence of lengthy and expensive diseases were minimised within the population, and therefore are not bogging down the healthcare system, are expensive price tags for somatic gene editing not worth it in the long run? Or maybe pharmaceutical companies that pull in billions on the backs of said diseases would have a complaint that governments and the lobbyists couldn’t ignore.

While somatic gene editing gets a pass with me until I can be convinced otherwise, germline editing – inheritable changes made through reproductive cells – on the other hand, has me in full-force hypervigilance mode. As amazing as these new heights being reached by CRISPR were, like any great technology, there is the possibility that it could be weaponised and used for nefarious reasons. This was when the book started to weigh heavy on my psyche, and I found myself putting it down to discuss the ethics with my husband. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that these advances would be in the same vein as the splitting of the atom, or the proliferation of the internet. How does one truly feel about such important and life changing technologies that could also be the authors of the world’s destruction?

‘…in 2016 when James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, issued the agency’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” and it included for the first time “genome editing” as a potential weapon of mass destruction.’

Moral and ethical questions concerning the usage of genetic engineering to produce children of specific qualifications and lacking undesirable features, leaves a lot for discussion and thought. Although one may be inclined to feel that gene modification and selection is playing God and should be left to chance, another may think it cruel and unusual not to use every tool in the workbench to make sure all living beings have a fair chance at a good life. Imagine for a moment being able to eliminate schizophrenia from the gene pool.

Another important factor to consider is the ability for germline editing to further erode equality of opportunity within society. Could the expense of the technology, and differing regulatory standards in certain countries lead to genetic tourism? If you have the money, just travel to one of the countries that offer the procedure and design your genetically modified little human. How could any governing body or judicial system possibly regulate such a thing?

The thought that I kept coming back to as Isaacson was weighing out the pros and cons was what would be the dreaded possible unintended consequences… What would happen to: personal drive, empathy, humility, sense of accomplishment through grit and determination, sacrifice, tolerating discomfort, personal responsibility, or healthy living? If we don’t seriously consider all that could come from this, do we deserve whatever we get? It felt as though there should have been an international referendum on this, but as documented in the case of the CRISPR twins in China – which you’ll find chronicled in the book – the cat was already out of the bag.

“Ingenuity without wisdom is dangerous.”

It’s hard to imagine how a gene supermarket, with price points only affordable to the already rich and privileged, would result in anything other than a super-elite class. Those unable to keep up would merely be serfs whose only existence would be to serve the master class. Bio-techno-feudalism, as it were. That is not the world I want to live in.

Doudna: “We could create a gene gap that would get wider with each new generation,” she says. “If you think we face inequalities now, imagine what it would be like if society became genetically tiered along economic lines and we transcribed our financial inequality into our genetic code.”

‘By limiting gene edits to those that are truly “medically necessary,” she says, we can make it less likely that parents could seek to “enhance” their children, which she feels is morally and socially wrong.’

Speaking of supermarkets, as an aside, one of my favourite questions laid out in the book references genetically modified food and one of its unintended consequences: ‘Will we become less flavorful, like our tomatoes?’ Maybe if more people are fed, and fewer left starving, the taste is less important? … If only it were that black and white.

Nearing the end of the book we reach the vaccination information. It was heartening to see a shift in the behaviour amongst the CRISPR scientists when they became less worried about competition and were willing to share their work, as they became impassioned by the urgency to defeat the coronavirus. The fundamental breakdown of what the mRNA vaccine technology can do for humanity and the future of plague and disease in the world is nothing short of miraculous. I am truly amazed by what these genius scientists have uncovered to help to defend mankind, and how their hard work could see us not locked down in our homes every time a novel corona virus comes on the scene.

‘…basic function that RNA performs in the central dogma of biology: serving as a messenger RNA (mRNA) that carries genetic instructions from DNA, which is bunkered inside a cell’s nucleus, to the manufacturing region of the cell, where it directs what proteins to make. In the case of the COVID vaccine, the mRNA instructs cells to make part of the spike protein that is on the surface of a coronavirus.’

I’m really glad that I took the time to wrestle with The Code Breaker and its big questions, and I would recommend that others do the same if they are interested, as this is the world we live in now, like it or lump it. You don’t have to be science minded to follow, as long as you give yourself the space to not understand everything to the T… cell (haha), and who knows, you may just find you’ve learned something. Upwards of 90% success rate or not, for my family I am inclined to think that more time is needed to see how these vaccines will react to people’s immune systems in the long-term, especially those with autoimmune disorders, as we have in our household. The data collected regarding their use in humans is obviously very limited in scope, given they have been in use for under a year at this point. With time and confidence this could truly be the thing to save us, and as long as the technology stays in the right hands, it won’t be the thing to destroy us.

What are your thoughts on the gene editing possibilities that this technology offers humanity? Do you trust in the world to use this revolutionary science fairly, or will it be manipulated and weaponised by the fortunate few against the masses?

A bookmark representing a spike protein, that I had fun creating after reading The Code Breaker.

Peachy Books Graphic showing a rocket ship flying into outerspace with a purple coloured galaxy in the background and a planet with surrounding stars, with a text box below it in purple with yellow and orange letters that says: Visit the Peachy Books Review for the Who HQ Series Title: Where is Our Solar System? Today!
book reviews, Middle Grade, Sciences

Book Review: Where Is Our Solar System? by Stephanie Sabol

Book Cover for Where is Our Solar System? from the Who HQ series

Where Is Our Solar System?

Stephanie Sabol, illustrated by Ted Hammond

Children across the globe love to learn about the solar system. I’m in my 40s, yet I can remember doing my first oral presentation, standing up at the front of the class and nervously sputtering out the names of the colourful orbs I’d so carefully cut from construction paper and displayed on flimsy poster board.

With technology being what it is, kids have it too easy these days! How often do they even do a physical presentation, given the habits being adapted through COVID virtual learning? With the choice available to him, my son excitedly opts for online slide projects as opposed to the cutting, pasting, and printing required for a tangible design.

Never mind research trips to the library for facts and content – which I loved – this lad only needs to do a simple web search and he’s met with endless pages of info to draw from; easy, peasy!

Where is Our Solar System? is not only a fun and interesting read, it would have been the perfect resource for doing a project back in the olden days. This one book would give you all the interesting data you needed for any middle grade project.

Historically speaking, we are taught about how the sky helped ancient people with navigating their ships based on the alignment of the stars, how the ancients told time with the position of the sun, and how they would organise planting schedules based on the moon’s phases for better yields at harvest.

We learn how planets were first discovered through the naked eye of early stargazers, and how the curiosity of early Greek scientists led to the study of astronomy. Visit the Mythology of the Solar System post in The Gallery to learn more about how Roman and Greek mythology inspired the names of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

There are sections devoted to describing the planets and their sizes comparatively to Earth that I found enlightening, although my little space lover was quick to inform me, “You’re just late to the party, Mummy!’

We both learned a fascinating fact about Jupiter: its famous red spot is a storm that has been raging for over 340 years!

A Peachy Books graphic showing the red spot on Jupiter that says, The Great Red Spot is a persistent anticyclonic storm on the planet Jupiter, 22∘ South of the Equator, which has lasted at least 340 years.

And did you know that our moon is just a piece of Earth that was broken off from the planet after being hit by a very large object? 

Giant Impact Hypothesis diagram
Giant Impact hypothesis that resulted in our moon forming

To the thrill of my son, special attention was also paid to the planet Mars, and the Curiosity Rover that landed there in 2012.  

Image of the Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012
Mars rover Curiosity which touched down on August 5th, 2012

Learning is made easy as the informative diagrams and pictures throughout are not only eye-catching, but help to explain some of the concepts visually for little ones. For example, a basketball court is used to describe the Earth’s distance from the sun, the Earth’s axis, and the resulting season changes around the globe.

Minor mention of UFOs, and aliens, are part of the recount, as well as major innovations in space exploration like the Hubble Telescope, and the ISS are there to be explored.

Picture of the Hubble Telescope with the Earth in the background
The Hubble Telescope that was launched in 1990

Lest we forget why it all began, we are informed of the space race that spurred JFK to extensively fund space research, with the goal to beat the Russian Cosmonauts in putting the first man on the moon!

We really enjoyed reading this one from Who HQ, and this novice learned a tonne of new things since my early years when I was fascinated by our solar system. I’ve rounded up to 4.5 peaches for my rating, so make sure to share this educational book with your budding astronomer, they won’t be disappointed!

Here is the shooting star bookmark I was inspired to make when reading Where Is Our Solar System?

Shooting Star crochet bookmark being displayed on the first pages of the book Destination Moon.