How do you tell who an elk's mom is? It's a question that probably doesn't pop up too often but it's a real science conundrum that takes forensic intelligence to answer. Thankfully, locally raised author Lindsey Carmichael has the solution, all thanks to her new book.
Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild was inspired in much the same way as Fox Talk, her kids' book on animal communication that was released a year ago. Animal genetics was actually the subject of her Governor General's Medal-winning doctoral thesis at the University of Alberta in 2006. Her initial plan for her career path was to be a forensic scientist first, author second.
“I was working on a number of cases with Alberta Fish and Wildlife while I was at the university. This book came from one of the most unusual cases that I worked on,” she began. “Most wildlife investigations involve poaching, cases in which the animals unfortunately are dead. This particular case involved a kidnapping and paternity testing. I had to prove that a baby elk actually belonged to a wild mother elk.”
“It seemed like the perfect story for kids because kids are fascinated by forensics anyway, and then you've got the big fuzzy animal component, which is always good. And it had a happy ending. The animals are alive at the end of the story so it seemed a really natural fit for the audience.”
It's a young adult non-fiction book that has a wealth of information in a small package. Readers can learn all about how to solve a mystery such as the case of the kidnapped elk by going through all the steps of a bona fide scientific investigation. The book – the 11th title from this author – then takes the reader to court to prove the evidence and close the book on the crime.
It's the same kind of scenario that you might see on any crime procedural drama on TV like CSI or Law and Order, except it's all applied to the animal kingdom. That's what makes Fuzzy Forensics stand out in the bookstores, she says.
“It's definitely one of the more unusual approaches for the technology but DNA is DNA, and for animals it uses the same techniques that we use for people. It is a little bit more complicated for wildlife forensic scientists because there are so many species involved.”
It's a smart but fun read, and it proves how much Carmichael enjoys her work as it does for the importance of science in modern conservationism.
“I write them for the love, not so much for the money,” she laughed. “That's really what it's all about. It's more for my own passion and enjoyment and for helping kids discover some awesome topics about the world.”
Carmichael just launched Fuzzy Forensics in Calgary last weekend and she arrives in St. Albert for a book signing on Saturday. That event takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. at the local Chapters, located at #30, 445 St. Albert Rd.
She has a slate of other appearances booked as well, including a book talk and hands-on experiment at the Whitemud Crossing branch of the Edmonton Public Library tomorrow and a book signing and writing workshop in Lethbridge next Tuesday.
Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild<br />by Lindsey Carmichael<br />40 pages<br />$31.95 <br />Ashby-BP Publishing<br /><br />$1 from the sale of each copy will go to the Alberta Conservation Association<br />Visit www.lecarmichael.ca for more information.