Book review


Molecular Biology: Principles of Genome Function Nancy L. Craig Orna Cohen-Fix Rachel Green Carol W. Greider Gisela Storz Cynthia Wolberger Oxford Univeristy Press 2010 864 pp., ISBN 978-0-1995-6205-3, $99.00.

Susan White*, * Department of Chemistry, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010.

“Molecular Biology” is an excellent, completely up to date textbook that explores every facet of the Central Dogma. The authors, six women molecular biologists from The Johns Hopkins University, are all experts in their fields and have collaborated to write a highly readable, coherent, and attractive text. The cover of the paperbound edition has a nonhierarchical triangle that shows the inter-relationships between DNA, RNA, and protein. This 840 page book is divided into 16 chapters which are superbly organized into sections that are further subdivided by blue headings that are actually sentences. A student cannot get lost! The first three chapters review key biology and chemistry concepts and set the stage for subsequent topics. The next four chapters deal largely with DNA—chromosome structure, the cell cycle, replication, and chromosome segregation. The next two chapters discuss transcription and RNA processing and this is followed by two chapters on translation and protein modification and targeting. Coming complete circle, DNA damage and repair, mobile DNA, and genomics are discussed in the next four chapters. The final chapter is dedicated to experimental methods and is organized according to functions such as detection of specific DNA sequences, intermolecular interactions or imaging, and structure determination.

From the student's point of view, this is a clear and well thought out text. While the authors acknowledge that experimental methods and journal articles are the heart of molecular biology research, they have wisely elected not to foreground either of these in the body of the text. Instead, each chapter has a few “Experimental Approach” sections of one to two pages that profiles classic or recent experiments. In the kinetochore protein section, a classic 1990 genetic screen is juxtaposed with recent mass spectrometry and green fluorescent protein data. Online resources, not available to this reviewer, include a Journal Club for those desiring more exposure to the literature and electronic versions of the figures that can be downloaded. The vast majority of the figures are well done in several color drawings that include just the right amount of detail. Chemical structures are used sparingly and only as necessary and the same is true for biochemical structures. Thus, the central points are made clear to students without providing excessive detail. Scientists using this text as a reference to update and expand their molecular biology background will not be disappointed.

What makes this text a wonderful resource for students and instructors alike is the writing of the text itself. The first few sections of a chapter describe the basic framework for each topic and subsequent sections incorporate research advances from the last decade. Molecular biology is presented as universal and what is stressed is the common aspects of each phenomenon and often eukaryotic complexities are discussed following development of the general framework. To the extent possible, energetic, structural or biological causes are used to explain the molecular biology. This is far from a molecular biology text that presents strings of primary sequences or a parade of cartoonish protein factors. Cause and effect are made obvious in the clearly written text that contains numerous terms in bold that can be looked up in the glossary at the end of the book. However, the subject matter is dense and even experienced molecular biologists will need frequent pauses. Few instructors will be able to cover the entire book in a one semester course unless they judiciously choose a subset of sections in the latter half of each chapter.

I enjoyed the presentation in the chapters on translation and transcription. The authors do an excellent job incorporating the now decade-old ribosome structure with the three tRNA binding sites and the hybrid states that help explain how the mRNA moves three nucleotides at a time through the ribosome. The discussion of molecular mimicry makes a compelling case for the importance of three-dimensional structures. Prokaryotic and eukaryotic translational initiation and regulation are effectively compared and contrasted. The actual catalysis of peptide bond formation is nicely diagrammed and the role of the 2′ OH of the P site tRNA is highlighted. The role of 3′ UTR looping and polyA binding protein in eukaryotes and its interruption by viruses is well done. The transcription chapter starts with a brief primer that is followed by an excellent structural presentation of RNA polymerases from the three kingdoms. Strand separation, the switch from initiation to elongation, and the eukaryotic mediator complex are extensively treated. Once again, the Experimental Approach shows two key experiments on abortive transcripts done almost thirty years apart. The regulation sections deal with DNA binding protein motifs, chromatin, and histone modifications and are organized around regulation at initiation, elongation, and termination. My favorite example is the yeast that turns on Sir2 deacetylase in the low-niacin urinary tract environment. Normally silenced adhesion proteins are thus derepressed and the yeast is thus able to adhere to its host. The classical lac and lambda repression systems are discussed and reader should be aware that on page 335, OR1 and OR3 column headings have been reversed and are incorrect. In summary, Nancy Craig and coauthors have produced and excellent textbook for students and researchers alike. The style is reminiscent of an early edition of “Molecular Biology of the Gene” by James Watson in that the section subheadings are declarative sentences and the text naturally anticipates your questions. What all readers should appreciate is the huge expansion in our molecular biological knowledge in the last decades and this text will make participants in this venture proud.