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Biochemistry & Molecular Biology of Plants

Review from Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education

Frequently, a newly released textbook represents only an incremental update of previous texts in the field. However, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology of Plants is a truly unique text that redefines the standard in this discipline. Written and edited by some of the most prolific and influential scientists in plant biology, the 1300-plus-pagc tome blends detailed narrative descriptions with rich full-color diagrams and photographs. This book lakes the material covered in classic plant physiology textbooks such as those by Taiz & Zeiger or Salisbury & Ross, adds details from plant biochemistry texts such as that of Goodwin & Mercer, liberally folds in segments from general molecular cell biology volumes such as Lodish et al., and spices it with updated examples and expanded sections not found in any other textbook available. Together, they yield an informative and beautiful work that will be engaging for students and indispensable for instructors and researchers.

The editors have built the text around five broad topic areas, including compartments, cell reproduction, energy flow, metabolic and developmental integration, and plant environment and agriculture. Around this frame-work, the subject matter is presented in a slightly unconventional but ultimately workable order. For example, the membrane systems, intracellular structures, organelles, and membrane transporters are presented within the first few chapters, but the protein- and lipid-building blocks of these components are not discussed until the middle of the volume. Instead, sufficient in-formation on lipid bilayers and their associated polypeptides is provided early to permit a smooth introduction to the plant cell before addressing the complexities of their metabolic origins. Similarly, metabolism of complex polysaccharides is considered as part of the segment on the cell wall, preceding the text's treatment of simple sugar metabolism. Nitrogen and sulfur metabolism are discussed 400 pages before the uptake of other mineral nutrients is described. Anyone who has attempted to teach this material knows the difficulty of arranging the concepts in a fluid, coherent manner. With their unconventional organization, the editors have found an effective way to present cellular concepts without assuming a detailed knowledge of the precursor components initially.

The textbook is especially notable for its integration of biochemical pathways of plant components and the relevance of those molecules to growing cells and to signaling processes Although there is some variability among chapters, the emphasis is on comparing plant processes with those of other eukaryotic systems. Not only are the regulatory and biosynthetic pathways described, the authors liberally scatter photographic examples of mutant phenotypes, in situ hybridization, confocal images, and other relevant figures that demonstrate the significance of these molecules and processes to organismal physiology, growth, and development. The layout will help students put molecular processes into a cellular and organismal context. By showing micrographs of Krantz anatomy, close-ups of the cells involved in C4 photosynthesis, and diagrams of the C4 metabolic cycle together on one page, the authors put the biochemical concepts in a cellular perspective. Juxtaposition of generalized sche-matics of pathways with detailed representations of the same pathways is especially helpful for putting the specific metabolic elements on a comprehensible framework.

Given the book's subject matter, the authors arc forced to walk a fine line between presenting concepts that are better understood in non-plant systems, and emphasizing plant-specific models that may be less well developed. This difficulty is apparent in such chapters as "The Cell Cycle", where the discussion is largely focused on other eukaryotic models in which the discoveries were origin-ally made, whereas the chapter devotes only a brief section describing plant-specific concepts such as totipotency or mechanisms regulating endoreduplication. The result of this emphasis is that many chapters could serve as sections of an introductory biochemistry or molecular biology text, assuming little knowledge beyond college chemistry and biology. On the other hand. some subjects may be incomprehensible to stu-dents that lack prior advanced coursework in these areas. For example, numerous figures throughout the book - particularly those that show primary data such as gels or patch-damp traces - do not provide enough information for uninitiated students to interpret the results. Nevertheless, frequent asides in the form of "boxes" add depth to many topics, including techniques that were instrumental to discoveries described in the main text. Students with recent experience in biochemistry or cellular and molecular biology courses will find the text useful for reviewing and updating their general knowledge, while incorporating plant-specific processes that are frequently ignored in broad biochemistry or cell biology courses.

Among the most substantial additions that sets this textbook apart is its extensive consideration of plant/pathogen interactions. This area of research has expanded immensely over the past decade, and the book appropriately reflects the elegant variety of responses that plants marshal in response to attack. Surprisingly, there is very little attention paid to the mechanism of Agrobacterium-mediated infection, given its importance in all aspects of plant biology. Also disappointing is the relatively terse treatment of signal perception and transduction, considering the enormous strides that have occurred in understanding molecular mechanisms in this area. Although the chapter is well written, 50 pages is insufficient to cover such a diverse area of active study.

As with most such ambitious projects - especially in their first release - there are occasional minor errors (e.g. figure 12-46 implies that C4 acids move from mesophyll to bundle sheath cells by an apoplastic pathway). Furthermore, the strength of having multiple authors contributing in their specific areas of expertise also yields some breaks in consistency among chapters. Still, these complaints are relatively insignificant when judged against the totality of the volume.

While the book is most appropriate for graduate-level instruction -- and arguably for advanced undergraduate courses -- it contains sufficient detail to inform research biologists in areas outside their specializations. An added bonus for instructors is a CD containing the figures and photographs from the book, but it was not made avail-able for this review. A few of the figures may be daunting in their complexity, especially to undergraduates, but they provide a clear and consistent roadmap that will be useful as a reference for students, instructors, and re-searchers. Historical notes and interesting digressions, such as (he medicinal applications of natural products or non-food uses of fatty acids, will attract even non-plant biologists. The book is available in an affordable paperback version for students, but the heavy usage it will withstand in researcher's hands justifies purchase of the more durable hardcover for most. The bottom line All plant biologists will want a copy of this book on their shelves.

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