Little bits of life and death

The Cell - The Cell Cycle. First Edition

February 23, 2007

Formulating an understanding of how a cell functions is a fascinating problem that has challenged cell biologists for well over a century. A large number of fields address specific aspects of a cell's workings, and a plethora of diverse techniques have been used to address questions such as determining how a cell grows and divides, how it interacts with other cells, how it dies and what it is made up of.

The latest incarnation of the popular text book The Cell: A Molecular Approach does a really good job of imparting the essential information young scientists will require at the onset of their studies within the molecular and cell biology disciplines. It is a clear and concise reference book for a new undergraduate biologist and will make an excellent companion text for first-year modules in cell or molecular biology, biochemistry and topics related to the study of cancer.

The book contains clear colour images and figures, as well as providing movies and additional material both online and on the included CD-Rom. It is organised into four separate sections, each concentrating on a distinct topic discussing a cell's biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology and regulation, with excellent summaries at the end of each chapter.

As you progress through the book, topics are presented with increasing levels of sophistication. This allows the more advanced cellular processes discussed later in the book to be presented to a satisfactory level of complexity.

The book is not as in-depth and comprehensive as a number of rival texts.

This is, however, one of its strengths, and one that makes it eminently suitable as a core text for first-year students; it is not an intimidating read, with clear in-depth descriptions of each topic, which are facilitated by the inclusion of large clear colour images.

The authors have been successful in relaying the excitement of the fields of research. They have done this is by describing a number of key experiments and techniques that give the reader a perspective of how a number of key discoveries were made, and relate their significance to the field.

The authors have made significant updates over the previous edition, with new sections describing recent innovations and discoveries made in systems biology methods and their uses to the biologist. There is a new chapter on cell death, as well as updated and expanded chapters on cell-signalling, cancer and the cell cycle.

This leads on to David O. Morgan's useful reference book The Cell Cycle, which describes these latter topics in much more depth and detail. This is part of a new series titled "Primers in Biology", in which the publishers intend to provide a useful teaching resource as well as a lab reference book.

Indeed, not since the publication of Andrew Murray and Tim Hunt's Cell Cycle: An Introduction has there been such a useful and clear book introducing the key factors and concepts important in regulating the cell cycle.

In this book Morgan, an established researcher in the cell-cycle field, gives a comprehensive and up-to-date description of the eukaryotic cell cycle (the bacterial cell cycle is omitted), with plenty of excellent figures and images that complement the text perfectly.

Morgan is successful in getting across how many of the major breakthroughs have been made possible by corroborating findings from complementary studies carried out in multiple organisms and has included plenty of important and key papers cited by the author throughout the text.

However, unlike The Cell , this book discusses the key concepts and mechanisms involved in regulating the different stages of the cell cycle without describing the experiments that were used to determine them. The reader, therefore, gets no feeling of the history of the field, or how the multiple-discipline nature of cell cycle research allowed it to progress so far and was key in determining so many regulatory mechanisms.

That said, this is still an excellent reference book for cell biology undergraduates with an interest in the cell cycle and the related field of cancer research.

It would also make a useful reference book for any postgraduate student in a cell-cycle laboratory.

Daniel Mulvihill is BBSRC David Phillips research fellow, Kent University.

The Cell: A Molecular Approach. Fourth Edition

Author - Geoffrey M. Cooper and Robert E. Hausman
Publisher - ASM Press
Pages - 820
Price - £38.99
ISBN - 0 87893 220 8

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