edited by T. A. Brown
Oxford University Press (2001) 289 pages. ISBN 0-19-963644-3
About 6 months ago I reviewed the first volume of this updated two-part series from T. A. Brown (Plant, K., 2001. Can't clone, won't clone. J. Cell Sci. 114, 1797). I used cookery as my theme, hence the title given to this review of `part 2', which is a reference to Delia Smith's `How to Cook' series of books for the complete culinary novice. So, to continue my analogy, what you, the potential purchaser, really want to know is whether this second and final volume will complete your transformation from molecular Egg-Boiler to Cordon Bleu.
Volume 1 covered the real basics (DNA and RNA isolation, electrophoresis, cloning, and such microbiology as we molecular biologists can manage); so you will need to buy both volumes if you are starting from scratch. Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 finished, explaining how to make and screen libraries, various types of blotting and detection, sequencing, the polymerase chain reaction, transcript mapping and the expression of recombinant proteins in bacteria. This range is broadly the same as that of the first edition, although the chapter on protein expression has replaced one on DNA-protein interactions. Comparing the other chapters with the original, I found that often there were relatively few changes, which in some cases was more surprising than in others.
The section of the book where a shortage of recent innovations was particularly noticeable is the one describing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In my experience, many non-molecular biologists find that their first introduction to molecular techniques involves PCR, whether they are clinicians interested in mapping or diagnosing genetic disorders, biochemists seeking to generate mutant proteins or microbiologists speeding up the identification of clinical pathogens. In this substantially re-written chapter, Brown gives a good description of the principles of PCR and how to optimise it. However, there have been many improvements in basic PCR technology over the years, including new proofreading enzymes and buffering systems, which are not discussed here. For those interested in the RNA products of genes there is very little on RT-PCR and nothing other than a reference for the twin techniques of 5′ and 3′ RACE. Because of this short-fall, the book pushes those wishing to isolate cDNA products towards the library-screening approach, which in this day and age is certainly not the easiest and most costeffective route.
Apart from the somewhat deficient PCR chapter, I have to say I liked this book. As I said of the first volume, one of the nice things about Brown's books is their no-nonsense style. You'll find that this book goes beyond being just a series of recipes and protocols. It is full of sound advice to help you plan, execute and control your experiments. It gives you plenty of options (for example, there are many possibilities for labelling your DNA probe) and the information required to help you chose which will best suit your experiment. Brown's approach of building from the basics to prevent an overdependence on kits is one of which I whole-heartedly approve and in the long run it is well worth the effort. It will make you a far better molecular biologist!
So, to come back to our original questions, should you purchase and will it turn you into Egon Ronay? Well, to the first question I'd have to say pretty much the same as I said about the first volume. If you are a novice (even an expert novice!) looking for a good manual then this one is better than most, and it will certainly keep you moving in the right direction if you started with Volume 1. However, if you are simply wondering whether to upgrade your 10-year-old first edition, I am surprised to say there aren't really enough changes in here to merit the cost. As to making us all Masterchefs, well, I don't think that was ever Brown's (or indeed Smith's) intention. I suspect that if he succeeds in encouraging a few more non-molecular biologists to forgo the pre-prepared meals-for-one and actually weigh out a few ingredients he will be satisfied. For your final transformation, it is probably necessary to move on to the more specialised books or to start to create your own recipes! Happy cooking!
- © The Company of Biologists Limited 2002