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. Henderson B, Wilson M, McNab R, et al, eds. (£29.95.) John Wiley and Sons, 1999. ISBN 0 471 98681 X.
Bacteria remain the dominant life form on this planet by virtue of their inherent adaptability and rapid evolutionary potential; this has allowed bacteria to colonise every ecological niche of the planet and multicellular eukaryotes are merely a specialised niche to be exploited. Within the human ecological niche arise specialised environments and aggressive defence systems to prevent overexploitation or disease, but ironically the healthy human body supports many more bacterial cells than host cells without an adverse outcome and with much benefit. This interplay between bacteria and multicellular eukaryotes represents the newly identified scientific discipline of “cellular microbiology”, which formerly was fragmented into different areas including microbiology, immunology, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and histopathology. This book claims to be the first to bring this diversity into a single volume in a cohesive manner. The book is divided into two parts: part 1 introduces certain key concepts of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell biology, cell signalling mechanisms, and current molecular biological techniques used in cellular microbiology. These concepts are necessary to understand part 2 and, to that extent, it successfully achieves that goal. However, the introductory chapter is vague and confusing and one paragraph on mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism is inadequate. All forms of exploitation require adaptation and competitive fitness; the unique adaptability of bacteria and the mechanisms they use are essential to the understanding of this life form, and require due attention. Part 2 describes the interaction of prokaryotes with host eukaryotes during infection and describes in careful detail both the mechanisms used by bacteria in attack and the host defence strategies. The approach is comprehensive and detailed, describing the battle from the initial skirmishes until the final outcome. In that context, and in my experience, this book is unique. The text describes how bacterial attack strategies have been used as important tools for “understanding how the eukaryote cell works”. Part 2 closes with an uplifting chapter on future developments in cellular microbiology, in particular those areas that are in the early stages of development—for example, commensalism, idiopathic diseases, and novel therapeutic agents. This book is the product of an ambitious goal and, in those terms, is eminently successful. Unfortunately, in such a rapidly changing scientific discipline, it is already out of date as a reference source (most of the references are 1997 or earlier). However, as a textbook for understanding the fundamentals of the science, it will achieve longevity. Overall, a highly stimulating book, which should be regarded as essential reading for all postgraduates in the biological sciences.
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