Biochemistry

Biochemistry

112 Quantitative Problems in Biochemistry (Sixth Edition) b y E A D a w e s . p p 335. L o n g m a n G r o u p , L o n d o n . 1980. £12.95 ISBN 0-58...

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Quantitative Problems in Biochemistry (Sixth Edition) b y E A D a w e s . p p 335. L o n g m a n G r o u p , L o n d o n . 1980. £12.95 ISBN 0-582-44402-0 The advent o f the sixth edition o f Professor Dawes' book is accompanied by a change o f publisher as well as a slimming-down o f the volume. Although this may have helped to keep the price within bounds, the book is still more expensive than many undergraduate textbooks o f biochemistry and this may seriously limit its sale. The basic layout is the same as in previous editions, but the section on manometry has been eliminated owing to 'its current minor importance as a laboratory technique' and there is the welcome addition o f a chapter on membrane bioenergetics. The other topics covered are: determination o f molecular weights, acid-base relationships, thermodynamics and biochemical energetics, equilibria, reaction and enzyme kinetics, optical and photometric analysis, oxidation-reduction potentials, isotopes, and bacterial growth. As a matter o f policy there is no treatment o f statistics beyond a brief account in the chapter on isotopes in the context o f radioactive decay and a description o f the method o f least-squares in an appendix on the graphical solution o f problems. In recent years, with the changing emphasis towards the more biological as opposed to chemical aspects o f biochemistry, there has been a noticeable shift away from teaching a rigorous, quantitative approach to the subject and this has been accompanied by a declining level o f numeracy among undergraduate students and in some cases even university staff. Books o f the type reviewed here are therefore o f particular importance in removing the obstacle o f mathematics from a student's appreciation o f physical biochemistry. Such books need to establish a proper balance between the extent o f theoretical treatment o f a subject and the number o f worked examples o f appropriate problems. This book fails to get the balance right and there are a number of areas which are thin on worked examples. The book errs also in neglecting some more mundane procedures in favour o f more esoteric methods. In some cases this is possibly because the updating process has been incomplete. For example there can be few laboratories which now use either elementary or amino acid analyses to determine molecular weights whereas in recent years SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis has become a standard method for the determination o f polypeptide chain molecular weight. However, the former method is dealt with while the latter is ignored. Similarly the chapter on photometric analysis deals with the optical rotary dispersion o f proteins and its relationship to helix content but does not mention the estimation o f protein concentration from absorbance measurements at 280 and 260 nm. This type o f problem, in my opinion, would give the student a much gentler introduction to the quantitative approach. One gains the impression that this edition has been produced mainly to meet the publishers restriction on space rather than to update the book. Apart from the aforementioned new chapter on membrane bioenergetics and the inclusion o f the 'new' pentose phosphate pathway in the chapter on the use o f isotopes, most o f the material, including problems, is drawn from the previous edition but in abbreviated form. Although it is impossible to cover all aspects o f biochemistry in a volume o f this type, in the nine years since the previous edition some methods have developed and might have been included. For example in the section on spectroscopic methods, no mention is made o f ESR or N M R and while the chapter on enzyme kinetics has been pruned by the removal o f the King and Altman procedure, no examples o f the use o f pre-steady state kinetics or fast reactions are included. O n a more mundane level there is no coverage o f coupled enzyme assays. These, 1 am sure, are encountered early in most students' careers. Significant for the plant biochemist is the lack o f any mention o f the chloroplast in the chapter on redox systems. The book uses SI units throughout with one exception. In the section on ultracentrifugation there is a lapse into cgs units. This is no doubt to save the student from the trauma o f molecular weights expressed in Kg.mo1-1. However, as the definition o f the mole is unlikely to be changed, it would be as well to introduce the reader to this particular inconsistency o f the SI system as early as possible. In general this edition is disappointing and although it may continue to serve as a basic introduction to the physico-chemical methods most commonly employed in biochemistry, a more thorough rewriting with the inclusion o f new methodology would have been preferable. A major competitor to this volume must be Biochemical Calculations by BIOCHEMICAL

EDUCATION

9(3)

1981

I H Segel (Wiley, 1976). This book is much closer to the bench for the student reader and contains many more worked examples. Personally, if I had access to the fifth edition o f Dawes' book I would continue to use it and make Biochemical Calculations the addition to my library. J S Easterby

Department of Biochemistry The University Liverpool, UK

Biochemistry b y F r a n k B r a d l e y A r m s t r o n g a n d T h o m a s P e t e r B e n n e t t . p p 491. O x f o r d U n i v e r s i t y Press, N e w Y o r k . 1979. £14 ISBN 0-19-502406-0 I liked this book. It has an attractive and uncrowded layout and is printed in a clear dark type on single column pages with a generous margin for formulae, figures, tables, etc, which are clearly presented with a very restrained use o f brown ink for emphasis. The book is bound in bright blue covers and bears a drawing which the uninitiated might take for a futuristic space-station. The diligent and persevering student on reaching page 460 will learn that it is a diagram o f the phage 6X174. The book begins with a chapter on the historical perspectives including photographs o f famous figures from W6hler to Krebs. This humanizing feature is sadly often lacking from modern textbooks which present the subject in a cold, impersonal, clinical manner. I liked the little snippets o f information, such as Crick naming his Cambridge house The Golden Helix, or that Sumner who gained a Nobel Prize for his brilliant experimental work on proteins had lost his left arm after a hunting accident at the age o f seventeen. I liked too, the marginal notes explaining the meaning or derivation o f familiar terms, eg 'The Golgi apparatus is named for Camillo Golgi (Nobel Prize 1906) who first detected the vesicules in 1898 by staining brain cells o f a barn owl with silver salts!' The book is based on a generalized introductory course as taught by Armstrong at the North Carolina State University and by Bennett at the Rockerfeller University. Their collaborative effort is aimed at producing a basic core o f instruction suitable for a fairly wide range o f biological students majoring in different courses. Background information is first supplied on topics such as the cell and organelles, water as the solvent of life, buffers, etc, and then a fairly conventional chapter on amino acids is followed by a whole chapter (fourteen pages) devoted to amino acid sequencing, a well-deserved and fuller account than usual o f this important topic: later nine pages describe D N A sequencing. The chapter on Proteins: structure and function is largely restricted to a discussion o f myoglobin and haemoglobin. The chapter on enzymes is adequate but maybe half a page only on allosteric enzymes is a bit on the thin side. B-vitamins as coenzymes is the title o f a later chapter. Following chapters on carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acid, there is a key chapter on Energy and L ~ with emphasis on the importance o f ATP and this leads very naturally to a discussion o f the anaerobic biosynthesis of ATP (ie glycolysis and the pentose pathway) and then to aerobic biosynthesis (ie TCA cycle and electron transport). This is a good approach with emphasis on the goal. Students can easily get so involved in the minutiae o f metabolic pathways that they lose sight o f their purpose. The chapter on photosynthesis leads to the third route o f ATP biosynthesis, namely photophosphorylation. Metabolism concludes with a chapter on nitrogen metabolism which is a bit o f a rag-bag o f purine nucleotide biosynthesis and metabolism, the urea cycle and the metabolism o f phenylalanine. Amino acid metabolism thus receives surprisingly little attention and the student will search the index in vain if seeking information about the metabolism of, for instance, serine, cysteine or tryptophan. After discussions o f human nutrition and o f hormones, the student faces the final and fairly demanding lap with three chapters on D N A transcription and translation. This is done quite well and if the student keeps a clear head, he or she ought to be the proud bearer o f a knowledge o f topics as the Britten-Davidson model for eukaryotic gene control or the coding capacity o f qbX174. Every biochemical teacher probably has different ideas as to the topics that should be emphasized in an introductory course. This book contains the choice o f two teachers who have produced a good textbook which should do well in the very competitive field. It is warmly recommended. B A Kilby

Department of Biochemistry The University Leeds, UK