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Biochemistry & Molecular Biology of Plants


Review from INFORM

Review from ACTA Physiologiae Plantarum (APP)

Review from Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education

Review from Plant Science

Review from the Society of Experimental Biology Bulletin

This Is Not Your Father's Plant Biochem Textbook in Cell

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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Made Simple in Trends in Plant Science

Review by Hartmut Lichtenthaler, Karlsruhe from Journal of Plant Physiology®

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Made Simple

Only five years ago there was a real shortage of quality, up-to-date textbooks covering plant biochemistry, cell biology and physiology. Since then, several notable books have been published: Plant Metabolism (edited by David Dennis et al.)1, s by Hans Heldt2, and the recent revision of Plant Physiology® by Lincoln Taiz and Eduardo Zeiger3. Between them, these texts provide comprehensive coverage of a wide range of aspects of plant biology. Into this arena comes a new book, a multi-author work edited by Bob Buchanan, Wilhem Gruissem and Russell Jones. As is indicated by the title, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology of Plants aims to cover the molecular aspects of plant science in a single text, with the undergraduate biology course firmly in mind. The project originated from a proposed revision of the classic Plant Biochemistry by James Bonner and Joe Varner following the sad death of Joe Varner in 1995, but as the editors concede in the preface, the book developed into a text extending beyond the remit of a simple plant biochemistry text book.

In style and content, the book has clearly been influenced by the immensely successful Molecular Biology of the Cell. The overall organization is similar, there are the familiar declarative headings and the style of the illustrations is reminiscent of this text. The book is divided into five major sections: Compartments, Cell Reproduction, Energy Flow, Metabolic and Developmental Integration, and Plant Environment and Agriculture, which between them cover all the major aspects of molecular plant science, extending even into some physiological topics such as responses to abiotic stress. This organization is logical and makes it easy to find information. Although in general the coverage is broad and complete, there are a few strange omissions. For example, there is a whole chapter concerned with amino acid metabolism, but the biosynthesis of serine is not covered in spite of being referred to in the summary diagram at the beginning of the chapter. Although this is not a major omission, it has an impact on any claims the book might have to be a reference work. The coverage is also, in places, rather eclectic. This is difficult to avoid in a multi-author work such as this, where the research interests of individual chapter authors inevitably affect their choice of material for inclusion. In general, the text seems to be error free, although there is a recurring oversimplification that some might consider an error: the proton electrochemical potential difference across a membrane is given as the simple sum of the membrane potential difference and the ΔpH. This occurs in spite of a well-written section near the beginning that describes the correct derivation of this equation. Notwithstanding these points, this textbook has some real strengths. It is up-to-date not only in terms of the content, but also, and perhaps most importantly, in terms of its description of current research methodology. There are numerous references to the contributions that genetics, both classical and molecular approaches, have made to our understanding. There are also excellent sections that explain the basis of important techniques and approaches, such as use of NMR spectroscopy or the development of noninvasive methods for the measurement of cytoplasmic calcium concentrations. If you take the view that teaching plant biology is primarily about communicating how our knowledge of plant function is acquired, then this feature will definitely appeal. From the perspective of teaching, another key feature of the book is its illustrations. Although many works claim to be lavishly illustrated, this one really is, and the majority of the figures present important information in visually engaging and appealing ways. The use of colour is excellent, and the overall coherence of the volume is helped by the consistency between figures. For example, metabolic cofactors are always represented in the same way, making it easy to appreciate how pathways interact with one another, even if this is not stated explicitly. Overall, I think this book is a welcome addition to the texts available. Its claim to be a reference work can be disputed; even a work of more than 1200 pages cannot possibly cover everything. Nevertheless, as a tool for teaching (both for the teacher and the learner) I think that this book will prove invaluable. It will certainly be appearing on my reading lists before too long.

Steven A. Hill
Dept. of Plant Sciences, South Parks Road, Oxford, UK OX1 31313. e-mail: steven.hill@plants.ox.ac.uk


1 Dennis, D.T. et al. (1997) Plant Metabolism, Addison Wesley Longman

2 Heldt, H.W. (1997) Plant Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oxford University Press

3 Taiz, L. and Zeiger, E. (1998) Plant Physiology®, Sinauer

4 Alberts, B. et al. (1994) Molecular Biology of the Cell, Garland

Reprinted from Trends in Plant Science, volume 6, Steven A. Hill, “Biochemistry and molecular biology made simple,” page 43, 2001, with permission from Elsevier Science.

From The Journal of Plant Physiology®

This new, comprehensive textbook, well-designed and edited by three distinguished plant biochemists, provides a contemporary view of the wide field of plant biochemistry in the context of relevant information about the physiology, cellular, and molecular biology of plants. This textbook was originally planned as a third edition of Plant Biochemistry by Joe Varner, who died in 1995 before the book was written. The three editors organized the new textbook in an extended form in five parts: 1. Compartments; 2. Cell Reproduction; 3. Energy Flow; 4. Metabolic and Developmental Integration; and Part 5: Plant Environment and Agriculture. The 24 chapters are written by 53 contributors, all well known and leading experts in their field. All 24 chapters were reviewed by additional expert colleagues, which guarantees competent, up-to-date coverage of the many fast developing topics.

Part 1 contains chapters on "Membrane structure and membranous organelles"; "The cell wall"; "Protein sorting and vesicle traffic"; and the "Cytoskeleton." Part 2 contains chapters, e.g., on "Genome organization and expression"; "Protein synthesis, assembly and degradation"; an excellent chapter on fatty acid and lipid biosynthesis and lipid function, termed "Lipids" and a chapter with the biochemical details of "Cell division regulation." Part 3 comprises chapters with much detailed information on "Photosynthesis" and "Carbohydrate metabolism," as well as "Respiration and photorespiration." The six chapters of Part 4 deal with the biochemistry of "Long-distance transport," "Biosynthesis of hormones and elicitors," "Signal perception and transduction," and "Senescence and programmed cell death." Part 5, in turn, treats the environmental aspects of biochemistry and biotechnology of plants, dynamic areas where the unique capabilities of plants are used to solve contemporary societal problems. The four chapters present detailed knowledge on "Responses to plant pathogens," "Responses to abiotic stress," "Molecular physiology of mineral nutrient transport," and an excellent chapter on "Natural products and secondary metabolites," which comprises the biosynthesis of isoprenoids/terpenoids, alkaloids, and the various types of phenylpropanoids. An extended Index of 25 pages allows quick access to the textbook's topics; page numbers in italics indicate illustrations, and page numbers followed by a t or a b indicate tables or additional boxed material. A CD-ROM of all the illustrative matter in the book is available separately.

All chapters are complemented by numerous coloured diagrams and overview figures, as well as overview tables with "boxed materials," which provide additional information and help to easily understand and absorb the different topics. All chapters contain a list of references at the end for further reading. Regrettably, only a few chapters subdivide this "further reading list" into subtopics such as books, reviews, and research articles, of which Chapter 14, "Photosynthesis," is exemplary. In addition, mostly American books, reviews, or original scientific articles were cited, whereas the comprehensive European standard literature is rarely cited. On the one hand, the most recent research results are included, such as the non-mevalonate plastidic pathway for isoprenoid biosynthesis in Chapter 24; on the other hand, some more general topics are neglected. Thus, the plastoglobuli of chloroplasts are briefly mentioned in the photosynthesis chapter, but their function as reservoir for octocopherol, plastocuinol and triglycerides is mentioned neither there nor in the chapters on lipids or abiotic stress. Moreover, the general stress concept in plants has been well developed by European plant scientists in the last 15 years, but it is not mentioned in Chapter 22 on plant stress. Furthermore, only some herbicides are mentioned. I would have wanted more information on other herbicides, and on inhibitors of biosynthetic pathways, which are an excellent means for studying plant cell metabolism. Although many molecular biology aspects of plant biochemistry have been integrated into the various chapters, the reader of this textbook should be aware that this book is not a textbook on plant molecular biology, as the title might suggest.

For German students, this new plant biochemistry textbook is a valuable and much welcome complement to and extended treatise of the two excellent, but shorter German textbooks of plant biochemistry by H. W. Heldt (Pflanzenbiochemie, Spektrum Verlag) and G. Richter (Biochemie der Pflanzen, Thieme Veriag). Presently, there exists no other book that brings together so much up-to-date information in such an extended and yet easily understandable form. Thus, this appealing and pretentious American textbook can be recommended to all students and scientists in plant biology and biochemistry. It is also of interest to researchers in many related fields such as biotechnology, cell biology, pharmaceutical biology, and agriculture, as well as the food science and agrobusiness industries. It will undoubtedly find a very wide readership.

Hartmut Lichtenthaler, Karlsruhe

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