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Hildebrandt F, Igarashi P, eds. (£49.50.) Springer-Verlag, 1999. ISBN 3 540 57129 9.
All books are idiosyncratic, reflecting their authors in some way or other. This is a multi-author book, so its idiosyncracies mirror that fact. It is intended to be a working book, not bedtime reading, and it does not fail the latter criterion. It's not something for the wee small hours. Whether it's something for the daily round, the common task, is another matter. It all depends. Depends on the task, and upon you. So what is it? It starts from a narrow view of molecular biology. Molecular biology is claimed to be nothing more than the science of DNA and RNA, which would probably come as quite a surprise to the founders of the Journal of Molecular Biology. In other words, proteins are largely ignored. However, that a working book is focused is no bad thing. Too wide a range and it would be unmanageable in a laboratory. So what is it? It's a collection of recipes and tips on how to manipulate DNA and RNA with brief introductions to the technique being considered. It covers all the basic methods that a “molecular biologist” considers important: how to extract nucleic acids, how to modify and analyse them, how to clone DNA fragments, how to make and use various sorts of DNA libraries. In addition, it covers some more specialist areas, such as chromosome analysis by fluorescent hybridisation and transgenic animals. So is it useful? Well, yes and no! I haven't tried the recipes as such in detail, but they are along the same lines as other similar books, and I'm sure they work. So is it useful? Well, yes and no! It depends on what you want to do and on you. If you want to do everything from scratch, much of this book would be useful. But in my experience not many people want to do that, and the commercial companies provide so many kits for so many methods with such good instructions that one hardly bothers to do it any other way. The easy ways have enormous attraction. When you can buy a gene walking kit, why screen a λ gt library? For the more specialist topics, I would hate to think that this was all I had.
So why did I mention idiosyncracies? Well, there are omissions; quantitative polymerase chain reaction, gel shift and supershift assays for transcription factors to name but a few. And on the side of superfluity, does one really need two chapters on pulsed field electrophoresis? In 15 years of working in and visiting molecular biology laboratories, I have only ever come across one group using the technique, and when I showed some interest, they gave me the equipment because they needed the space for something else. It's still somewhere about, unused of course, but that's my deficiency probably. Would I buy this book for my research group? Probably not! But I might buy it to use some of the basic recipes for setting up undergraduate practical sessions.
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