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McHughen demystifies DNA for nonscientists

With personal genetic testing kits in homes and GMO labels on foods in stores, DNA is an increasingly familiar, if not well-understood, term. As part of his outreach efforts, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alan McHughen gives talks to the general public about plant biotechnology and genetics. Over the years, McHughen, who is based at UC Riverside, has fielded many of the same questions, which he answers in his new book: DNA Demystified.

“I was inspired to write the book by the large number of basic questions I got from people curious about DNA and how it works, but lacking the technical training they thought they needed,” McHughen said. “They've told me the books currently available are either too simplistic or too technical. So DNA Demystified aims to hit that middle ground, being scientifically accurate, but also accessible for the nonexpert. In that respect, it is absolutely perfect for home schoolers, both the teacher-parent and the science curious student.”

What people know, or think they know, about DNA and genetics is often confused or incorrect. McHughen clarifies popular misconceptions people hear on the news and read on the internet.

The book begins with the basic groundwork and a brief history of DNA and genetics. Chapters then cover newsworthy topics, including DNA fingerprinting, using DNA in forensic analyses, and identifying cold-case criminals. For readers intrigued by at-home DNA tests, the text includes fascinating explorations of genetic genealogy and family tree construction-crucial for people seeking their biological ancestry. Other chapters describe genetic engineering in medicine and pharmaceuticals, and the use of those same technologies in creating the far more controversial GMOs in food and agriculture. Throughout, the book raises provocative ethical and privacy issues arising from DNA and genetic technologies.

“I also found some genetic experts also enjoy the book for exposing them to some of the applications they were less familiar with, whether genetic genealogy, forensic genetics, or genetic engineering and genome editing. I like to think there's something for everyone here,” McHughen said.

The book is available at

For more information, see the UC Riverside news release at

Posted on Friday, August 28, 2020 at 9:20 AM
Tags: Alan McHughen (2), August 2020 (16)

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