Christopher K. Mathews, Kensal E. van Holde, Dean R. Appling, Spencer J. Anthony-Cahill, Pearson Canada, Toronto, 2012, 1342 pages, ISBN 978-0-13-800464-4 (Hardcover $201.40), also available as an e-book.

This new edition of a popular textbook is an excellent choice for students who require a comprehensive treatment of molecular and cellular biochemistry. We teach a two semester biochemistry course taken predominantly by junior and senior biochemistry majors. The first semester covers macromolecular structure while the second semester covers metabolism. A complete text is needed for such a course, but there are many fine books to choose from and the competition is fierce. We have used the earlier editions of Biochemistry and were curious to see how the 4th edition has been improved. The most obvious change is the addition of two new co-authors, Dean Appling (University of Texas at Austin) and Spencer Anthony-Cahill (Western Washington University). The writing strengths of Mathews and van Holde (Oregon State University) have been aptly demonstrated in the three previous editions. The addition of Appling and Anthony-Cahill has improved many areas of the book, such as protein structure, enzyme kinetics, and one-carbon metabolism.

The 3rd edition of Biochemistry was published in 2000, and like the first two editions, was very well received. However, a 12-year layoff is an eternity for a popular textbook. The challenge facing the authors was to update the text without changing the things that made it attractive in the first place. The three chapters that make up Section 1 (The Realm of Biochemistry) are largely unaltered and provide an insightful introduction to biochemical fundamentals. We particularly appreciated the discussion of non-covalent interactions in Chapter 2 and biochemical energetics in Chapter 3. Although van Holde has a reduced role in the 4th edition, his contributions remain a strength.

The seven chapters that make up Section 2 (The Molecular Architecture of Living Matter) provide an informative treatment of the structure and function of nucleic acids, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. Chapter 4 (Nucleic Acids) could be significantly improved, however. The presentation of the classic Meselson and Stahl experiment early in this chapter is rather ineffective and cumbersome since DNA replication has yet to be discussed, while the brief introductions to transcription, replication, and translation that appear later seem out of place in a chapter dedicated primarily to the structure and properties of nucleic acids. We also would have liked a state-of-the-art discussion of RNA folding and tertiary structures. The chapters on protein structure are satisfying, although the authors missed the opportunity to include a cogent discussion of how disordered proteins defy the classical protein folding paradigm. Chapter 7 is entitled “Protein Function and Evolution,” but this is somewhat misleading since this chapter really is a detailed discussion of the structure and function of the globins and immunoglobulins. That being said, the choice of these proteins is appropriate for illustrative purposes. We liked Chapter 8 and its thorough biochemical treatment of contractile proteins and molecular motors, although some of our students struggled with the complexity of this material.

Section 3 (Dynamics of Life: Catalysis and Control of Biochemical Reactions) consists of two chapters. Chapter 11 (Enzymes) has been extensively re-worked and presents a fresh view of enzyme kinetics and reaction mechanisms, reflecting Appling's expertise in these areas. Chapter 11 (Chemical Logic of Metabolism) is a straightforward introduction to the chemistry of metabolism. It is not clear why these two chapters are grouped together into a separate section. Chapter 11 could just as easily have been placed in Section 2 and Chapter 12 in Section 4.

Section 4 (Dynamics of Life: Energy, Biosynthesis, and Utilization of Precursors) is devoted to the discussion of metabolism. This section contains 11 chapters (13 through 23) and is organized using the classical separation of carbohydrates, citric acid cycle, bioenergetics, lipids, nitrogenous compounds, and nucleotides. Collectively, these chapters provide a clear, concise, and easy to follow coverage of the individual pathways involved in metabolism. The discussion covers the chemistry of metabolic reactions with sufficient detail that students should gain an appreciation of the chemical properties of key metabolites and the logic and energetics of anabolic and catabolic pathways. The presentation of metabolic regulation is current and clearly explained. We did find, however, that many of the illustrations in these chapters are overly simplistic and more detailed figures could be incorporated to add clarity to the complex concepts and regulatory mechanisms that are discussed in the text. The material on metabolic regulation is interjected throughout the various chapters but a focused discussion of how regulation integrates with the physiological function of various organs is missing. The authors also frequently mix discussion of metabolism that is unique to mammals, prokaryotes, or plants, which will lead to some confusion among students. Membrane transport and the energetics and distinguishing properties of various transport systems are briefly discussed earlier in the book in the chapter on lipids. However, the importance of transport in the various aspects of mammalian metabolism could be better emphasized throughout Section 4. For example, it is our experience that a discussion of how the intestine carries out the absorption and transepithelial transport of glucose and how the properties of different glucose transporters influence how various tissues extract and metabolize glucose can be of more interest to students than focusing on the details of the individual reactions of the glycolytic pathway. Chapter 18 briefly covers important current topics in interogran relationships, including the roles of AMP-kinase, mTOR signaling, protein acetylation, and sirtuins in the regulation of metabolism. However, it is unclear why this chapter precedes the discussion of amino acid metabolism. As it stands, the amino acid chapter details the pathways of their synthesis and degradation without highlighting the interorgan nature and overall importance of amino acid catabolism. The treatment of starvation and diabetes also is cursory; a more detailed and up-to-date presentation of these topics is an excellent way to integrate and summarize nearly all of the material covered in a course on metabolism. Finally, the discussion of insulin and glucagon signaling in Chapter 23 (Mechanisms of Signal Transduction) could easily be expanded given the importance of the two hormones in the overall integration and regulation of metabolism. While it is typical of textbooks to describe signal transduction and interorgan relationships separately, we find that these two topics are more effectively taught if they are integrated into the various chapters on metabolic pathways and their regulation.

Section 5 (Information) has been expanded and now consists of six chapters that cover what the authors refer to as genomic biochemistry. The chapters in this section focus on the macromolecules involved in DNA replication (Chapter 25), DNA restructuring (Chapter 26), prokaryotic and eukaryotic transcription (Chapter 27), and translation (Chapter 28), which gives a biochemical tilt to material often covered in a molecular biology class. The one exception is Chapter 24, (Genes, Genomes, and Chromosomes), a new chapter that is more of a brief primer on molecular genetics. Also new to the 4th edition is Chapter 29 (Regulation of Gene Expression), which covers transcriptional regulation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, epigenetics, regulation of translation, and RNA interference.

A continuing strength is the ‘Tools of Biochemistry” series that closes many of the chapters. X-ray crystallography and NMR, proteomics and metabolomics, and the polymerase chain reaction are just a few of the 28 relevant biochemical techniques/protocols that are nicely explained. Too often the experimental side of biochemistry is missing from popular textbooks, but that is not the case here.

To gain a student's perspective we enlisted the opinions of several undergraduates currently enrolled in our course (J. Haskins, C. Hendrich, Y. Lu, M. Staros, K. Thompson, E. Webster, P. Zhuang). As a whole, the text was very well received. The students generally found the material to be interesting and the writing clear and concise. Difficult topics such as hemoglobin allosterism were more problematical but that is to be expected. Notable specific comments from our students included, “this chapter is well organized and the information accessible to the reader,” “I wish all my textbooks were this clear and easy to read,” and “I learned a lot.”

Altogether, the 4th edition of Biochemistry has not lost its earlier appeal. Most of our criticisms have to do with presentation rather than content, which is to say that they are minor. The text may be too detailed for a typical single semester biochemistry class, but is well suited for a more sophisticated two semester course. Both instructors and students alike should find the 4th edition to be a worthy addition to the long list of comprehensive biochemistry textbooks.

  • Jeffrey C. Hansen

  • Norman P. Curthoys

  • Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, 80523