Sachs, Jessica Snyder

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Sachs, Jessica Snyder

PERSONAL:

Married; children: one daughter. Education: Columbia University School of Journalism, master's degree.

ADDRESSES:

Home—NJ. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer. Contributing editor to Popular Science and Parenting; contributor to Discover, National Wildlife, and other publications; adjunct professor at Fordham University, Kean University, and New York University. Former manager and editor, Science Digest.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Fund for Investigative Journalism book award, 2006; fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing; research grant from the Sloan Foundation. Discover feature on the effects of antibiotics on the body's "good" bacteria was selected for inclusion in the anthology Best American Science and Nature Writing, 2006.

WRITINGS:

The Encyclopedia of Inventions, F. Watts (New York, NY), 2001.

Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, Perseus Publishing (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to New Book of Popular Science and Land and Peoples; work anthologized in Best American Science and Nature Writing.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jessica Snyder Sachs has earned high praise for her science journalism. She has written material for science encyclopedias as well as two well-received books for general readers. In Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, Sachs recounts the methods by which forensic scientists have sought to determine when a person has died. Since a precise time of death can be a crucial piece of information in murder cases, police and coroners have worked to develop increasingly accurate techniques to determine exactly when a person died. A dead body, Sachs explains, can be thought of as an ecosystem, with its various components providing information about how long the corpse has been a corpse. The ancient Greeks identified the conditions of rigor mortis (when the body stiffens) and algor mortis (when the body cools) as useful tools to determine time of death. Another factor that can provide important clues is the presence of maggots in a corpse. Some species of fly only lay their eggs in newly dead flesh, for example, while others do so after flesh has begun to rot. More sophisticated technological techniques include analysis of the eye's vitreous humor and of the chemical breakdown in the body's cells, as well as an investigation of the body's ability to conduct electricity.

Some of Sachs's more interesting stories involve forensic study of bodies that have been dead for many years. Scientists working with such corpses consider the deterioration of bones and clothing, as well as other factors such as weather patterns, to approximate time or date of death. In one case that Sachs cites, a leading forensic investigator concluded that a corpse found in a disturbed grave was that of a person who had died a year previously; in fact, the corpse was that of a Civil War soldier. His body was in remarkably fresh condition because the metal that had leached from the buttons of his clothing had slowed the process of decay.

Writing in Scientist, Ricki Lewis observed that Sachs "waxes eloquent on all manner of revolting details," such as accounts of how forensics students commonly throw newly killed pigs out of car windows to observe the microbes and other organisms that are attracted to the body as it decomposes; to better simulate similar conditions in human corpses, researchers in one of Sachs's anecdotes dressed the dead pigs in underwear. Sachs also describes a team of scientists who chewed up and spit out different salad ingredients and examining them under a microscope, to provide information on the analysis of stomach contents. The dirt in which a corpse is buried can also yield important clues, because fluids that leak out of bodies as they decay seep into the soil.

Lewis also noted that Sachs "captures the uncertainty and unpredictability of forensic science." While a reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that Corpse does not sufficiently develop the "link between the forensic sciences and criminal investigative tactics," Library Journal reviewer Eric D. Albright appreciated the book's accessibility and Booklist contributor William Beatty praised Sachs's "fascinating and thorough" treatment of her subject.

In Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, Sachs presents what New York Times Book Review contributor Abigail Zuger considered a "capable overview" of a subject that is both fascinating and timely. Sachs traces the history of the study of microbes, showing how the discovery of germs' role in the spread of disease led to some medical protocols that have resulted in unexpected problems. Many early immunologists did not understand that some bacteria in the human body perform beneficial functions. Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff, for example "viewed bacteria as the worst sort of parasites" and asserted that the "‘putrefaction’ of bacteria inside the human bowel [caused] senility, atherosclerosis and an altogether shortened life span."

Though Metchnikoff's theories were not universally accepted, physicians did begin to use massive amounts of antibiotics to kill germs. But as Sachs explains, this practice has several negative consequences. It kills not only the targeted microbe, but "good" bacteria as well. In some cases this creates the opportunity for an opportunistic infection to take root, as occurs with C. difficile colitis, an intestinal infection rampant in hospitals throughout the world. Overuse of antibiotics can also cause the emergence of virulent strains of disease that are resistant to drugs. Among the most prevalent of these are drug-resistant tuberculosis and staph infections.

As Sachs notes, researchers have come to believe that the best way to prevent antibiotic resistance is to reduce or even eliminate the use of antibiotics, relying instead on molecular interventions that disable harmful germs without affecting beneficial ones, such as genetic manipulation of bacteria to enhance their antiviral actions or to deter their reproduction. Such treatments, however, are not yet ready to be introduced. Sachs "makes a strong case for a new paradigm for dealing with the microbial life that teems around and within us," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

Sachs has also written an The Encyclopedia of Inventions, a reference work that describes major inventions through history and explains their impact on human societies. Sachs includes profiles of important inventors, and thematic overviews of agriculture, transportation, communication, and other sectors. As a contributor to the encyclopedia New Book of Popular Science, Sachs wrote chapters on chemistry, biology, and plant and animal life, in addition to coauthoring and editing the volume on astronomy and space science. For the reference work Land and Peoples, she wrote volumes on North America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

A contributing editor to Popular Science and Parenting, Sachs also writes frequently for Discover, National Wildlife, and other publications. She serves as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, Kean University, and New York University, and was manager and editor of Science Digest until 1991. Sachs has been awarded fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, as well as a research grant from the Sloan Foundation. In 2006, her Discover feature on the effects of antibiotics on the body's "good" bacteria was selected for inclusion in the anthology Best American Science and Nature Writing. Sachs is also a recipient of the Fund for Investigative Journalism's 2006 book award.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Sachs, Jessica Snyder, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, Perseus Publishing (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Sachs, Jessica Snyder, Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 2007.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 2001, William Beatty, review of Corpse, p. 529; September 15, 2007, Donna Chavez, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs, p. 12.

California Bookwatch, December 1, 2007, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April 1, 2002, J.A. Brown, review of Corpse, p. 1454.

Isis, June 1, 2002, Erin O'Connor, review of Corpse, p. 350.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of Corpse, p. 1276; July 15, 2007, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs.

Library Journal, October 15, 2001, Eric D. Albright, review of Corpse, p. 104; July 1, 2007, Kathy Arsenault, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs, p. 112.

New Scientist, October 27, 2001, Bernard Knight, review of Corpse, p. 55; December 7, 2002, review of Corpse, p. 53; December 7, 2002, Maggie McDonald, "Digging the Deceased," p. 53; June 28, 2003, review of Corpse, p. 51.

New York Times Book Review, November 27, 2007, Abigail Zuger, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs.

Publishers Weekly, October 22, 2001, review of Corpse, p. 66; June 4, 2007, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs, p. 38.

Quarterly Review of Biology, September 1, 2002, Ricki Lewis, review of Corpse, p. 365.

Science Books & Films, March 1, 2002, review of Corpse, p. 354; November 1, 2002, review of Corpse, p. 539.

Science News, November 30, 2002, review of Corpse, p. 351; November 17, 2007, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs, p. 319.

SciTech Book News, March 1, 2002, review of Corpse, p. 14; March 1, 2008, review of Good Germs, Bad Germs.

Times Literary Supplement, May 17, 2002, Nasim Mavaddat, "When the Body Clocks Stop," p. 10.

ONLINE

Jessica Sachs Home Page,http://www.jessicasachs.com (April 19, 2008).

National Association of Science Writers Web site,http://www.nasw.org/ (April 19, 2008), Jessica Snyder Sachs profile.

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