Compound interest

Natural Products
February 10, 1995

The aim of this book is to give an overview of the chemistry and biological significance of natural products. It therefore differs from the many other books published on natural products, which have, in the main, been of a more specialist nature. They have usually been written from the standpoint of the synthesis, structural elucidation, biosynthesis or biological and medicinal properties of the com£ and have dealt almost entirely with secondary metabolites. This book attempts to cover all of these aspects of the subject and to include both primary and secondary metabolites and naturally occurring macromolecules. This is an ambitious undertaking in a small one-volume text and, for this reason, the subject matter has had to be restricted. Suggestions for further reading are provided at the end of each chapter.

The text has been written for final-year undergraduate and postgraduate students of organic and medicinal chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacy and pharmacology as well as for the professional market. The five authors have separately contributed seven chapters on carbohydrates; nucleosides, nucleotides and polynucleotides; amino acids and peptides; fatty acids and their derivatives; terpenoids; phenolics; and alkaloids. They have been given free reign on content, although the fact that each chapter contains information on structural types, general chemistry, structural elucidation, synthesis, biosynthesis and biological significance gives the book some degree of continuity. The balance between these various aspects of the subject has been decided by the individual authors.

The chapters have been chosen to give a reasonably comprehensive coverage of all types of natural product and are arranged in a logical order, although it might have been more appropriate to have discussed phenolics after fatty acids and before terpenoids. Given the scope of the subject and the restrictions of space, the authors do cover most important natural product types. There are, however, some important omissions.

For example, given the stated intention to cover biological significance, there is little discussion of vitamins and coenzymes, and porphyrins and corrins are not included at all. I am surprised that, given the impact of '-lactam antibiotics on modern medicine, we are not shown the structures of any of these important com£. To mention the tripeptide biosynthetic precursor of these com£ in the chapter on peptides and show a partial structure of the bacterial cell wall in the chapter on carbohydrates, without discussing the com£ themselves, is an oversight, given the suggested readership of the book.

The first chapter concerns carbohydrates and this leads logically to a chapter on nucleosides, nucleotides and polynucleotides. Although biological aspects of carbohydrates are covered briefly, the emphasis of the carbohydrate chapter is very much a chemical one and the chemistry and synthesis of the com£ and their use in the synthesis of other natural products is covered well. The second chapter on nucleosides, nucleotides and polynucleotides is extremely impressive and strikes an excellent balance between the biology and chemistry of these com£, providing an excellent introduction to this important area.

The chapter on amino acids and peptides is the longest. Amino acids are given much less attention than are peptides, and the chapter deals with the synthesis, structure and biology of these macromolecules. Although discussion of these aspects of the subject to an introductory level is appropriate, the existence of numerous excellent specialist texts and primers makes more advanced discussion unnecessary. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of information on the problems of peptide synthesis, such as amino acid protection, for a general introductory text, and I feel the authors would have done better to have used the space for a discussion of the chemistry, biology and use of amino acids in synthesis, and of the structures and biological action of the important peptide antibiotics. Porphyrins and corrins would have fitted well into this chapter on biosynthetic grounds. The suggested further reading here is disappointingly out of date.

The chapter on fatty acids strikes a good balance between the biological and chemical aspects of the subject and gives a good introduction to the biology of the com£ of the arachidonic acid cascade and their synthesis. The chapter on terpenoids begins by covering the general history of the field including the isoprene rule and some of the early structure elucidation work on which the field was founded. The bulk of the chapter is rightly devoted to a discussion of each of the various classes of terpenoids from hemiterpenoids to polyisoprenoids, concentrating on the structural variety and biosynthesis of the com£. There is a small section describing selected syntheses of terpenes and steroids.

The chapter on "phenolics" is, as might be expected, fairly short and discusses the history, structural types, structural elucidation, biosynthesis and synthesis of the com£ of this class that are derived from the shikimate and polyketide pathways. I would have liked to have seen the chapter expanded to include other polyketides so that the important and very topical macrolide antibiotics could have found a place.

The final chapter on alkaloids gives an excellent introduction to the richly varied structural types found in this class of com£ and gives good coverage to the biosynthesis of these natural products. Structural elucidation and synthesis have been selective but the examples chosen are interesting ones.

The book is well written and well produced and provides a useful and timely introductory text to the field of natural products.

Douglas Young is professor of chemistry, University of Sussex.

Natural Products: Their Chemistry and Biological Significance

Author - J. Mann, R. S. Davidson, J. B. Hobbs and D. V. Banthorpe
ISBN - 0 582 06009 5
Publisher - Longman Scientific
Price - £24.99
Pages - 455

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