An eighteenth century science in the molecular age


PRINCIPLES OF REGENERATIVE BIOLOGY Bruce M. Carlson Academic Press-Elsevier Burlington, MA, 2007, 379 p, $54.95

Shannon J. Odelberg*, * Division of Cardiology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

The scientific study of regeneration was initiated in the 18th century when the French scientist René-Antoine Ferchault de Réamur discovered that crayfish could regenerate their claws and limbs. Inspired by this discovery, several other 18th century scientists including Abraham Trembley, Charles Bonnet, Peter Simon Pallas, and Lazzaro Spallanzani soon demonstrated that many organisms had remarkable regenerative abilities. These early studies of regeneration set the stage for numerous advances over the intervening years that have allowed scientists to appreciate many of the complex cellular events that drive the regenerative process. Today, in the molecular age, scientists are just beginning to identify the genes and molecular pathways that control regeneration.

Recently, two highly informative books have been published that synthesize much of our current knowledge regarding regeneration. The first of these books, Regenerative Biology and Medicine by David L. Stocum (for review, see “In Search of Spallanzani's Dream,” Dev Dyn 2007;236:1374–1375), was published in the latter half of 2006, while the second book, Principles of Regenerative Biology by Bruce M. Carlson, was published in the first half of 2007. An individual might be tempted to read just one of these two excellent books; however, doing so would deprive him or her of the opportunity to explore this fascinating field from completely different perspectives.

In the most recent book, Bruce Carlson uses his extensive knowledge of the field to explore the history, biology, and possible future of regeneration research. Unlike many books on the topic that have preceded it, Principles of Regenerative Biology is written in an integrated manner in which every chapter explores a particular biological aspect of regeneration, rather than focusing on a particular organism with regenerative abilities or a certain type of regeneration. For example, Chapter 2 covers the issue of the origin of cells that will give rise to the regenerated organ or structure. A variety of regenerating systems and cellular mechanisms are discussed including the production of progenitor cells by cellular dedifferentiation during salamander limb, lens, and retinal regeneration; Schwann cell dedifferentiation during peripheral nerve regeneration; proliferation of parenchymal cells during liver regeneration; and the activation of stem cells during planarian and mammalian tissue regeneration. This integrative approach is refreshing and also allows the reader to compare the mechanisms of regeneration across different biological systems. One minor disadvantage of this approach is that the same topic is often reiterated several times throughout the book as different biological aspects of the same regenerative process are discussed in various chapters. Although this might seem somewhat repetitive to those who are well acquainted with the field of regenerative biology, other readers, such as students, who are new to this field might find such reiteration helpful in solidifying the new knowledge they have just acquired.

Using this integrative system, Carlson divides his book into 15 chapters. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the field of regenerative biology, including a very brief history, along with an overview of the types of regeneration that can be observed throughout the animal kingdom. As noted above, Chapter 2 addresses the origin of cells involved in various regenerative processes, while the following six chapters are devoted to the importance of the epithelium (Chapter 3), substrate (Chapter 4), tissue interactions (Chapter 5), nerves (Chapter 6), morphogenesis (Chapter 7), and reintegrative processes (Chapter 8) in regeneration. In the subsequent six chapters, the author discusses several important topics, including the relationship between regeneration and development (Chapter 9); how aging affects regeneration (Chapter 10); the influence of the environment on regeneration (Chapter 11); the relationship between stem cells, cellular plasticity, and regeneration (Chapter 12); tissue engineering (Chapter 13); and the various efforts that have been made to stimulate regeneration in nonregenerating systems (Chapter 14). In the final chapter (Chapter 15), Carlson summarizes the important discoveries that have already been made and then provides a discussion of what remains to be learned and where he perceives regeneration biology may be headed over the next several years. This latter chapter could prove useful for stimulating new ideas for research projects in regenerative biology, and graduate students as well established investigators might benefit from carefully thinking about the issues the author raises.

Principles of Regenerative Biology contains numerous figures that are quite helpful in illustrating major concepts contained in the text. The figures are easily interpreted, and often the reader does not have to consult the accompanying legend to grasp the meaning of the illustration. Both students and experts in the field will appreciate this attention to detail and the clarity of the figures in this book. Teachers will also find many of these figures useful for their lectures in illustrating the major concepts of regenerative biology.

Scattered throughout the text are references to Russian research and literature on regenerative biology. The author is especially qualified to discuss these topics given that he is fluent in the Russian language and was a visiting research scientist to the Soviet Union from 1965–1966 where, as he states in the Preface to the book, he was exposed “to many new ways of looking at mammalian regeneration.” Carlson again uses the integrative approach to place the Russian research in the context of other work that has been conducted around the world. This approach works well and allows the reader to understand the Russian literature and the influence Lysenkoism had in driving much of the Russian research and ideas concerning the mechanisms of regeneration. However, given the author's unique expertise and perspective, an entire chapter devoted to the history of regeneration research with special emphasis placed on the contributions made by Russian scientists would have been appreciated. It can only be hoped that the author will consider writing another book that contains this interesting story in greater depth.

Principles of Regenerative Biology is a welcome addition to the several excellent texts covering the field of regenerative biology. It is as up-to-date as any text can be with references to articles that have been published as recently as the spring of 2006. Its main strengths lie in the rich information it contains concerning the field of regenerative biology, its clarity of presentation, and its unusual integrative approach to the subject.

In conclusion, whenever two books are written at approximately the same time by two pillars in a particular field, inevitable comparisons between the books will arise. This of course is true of Principles of Regenerative Biology and Regenerative Biology and Medicine. Both books are well-written and well-researched texts, each being written from a unique perspective and with a different emphasis. Principles of Regenerative Biology emphasizes the biology of regeneration and compares and contrasts various biological aspects of regeneration between different regenerating systems. Regenerative Biology and Medicine discusses the biology of regeneration and then places a heavy emphasis on the work that is being done to translate this information into the clinic. Given that each book serves a different purpose, each deserves to be read cover to cover. However, if a choice must be made as to which book to read, the decision should be based on what type of information the reader seeks. For those who want a well-written, highly informative text that reads quickly, Principles of Regenerative Biology would be most appropriate, whereas those readers who want to learn about regenerative biology with a strong emphasis on regenerative medicine and possible clinical applications should choose Regenerative Biology and Medicine.