Cell, Vol. 72, 169-170,
29, 1993, Copyright
0 1993 by Cell Press
Prolegomena of Plant Virology Fundamentals of Plant Virology. By R. E. F. Matthews. San Diego, California: Academic Press. (1992). 403 pp. $59.95.
In 1781, the German philosopher lmmanuel Kant published his famous Critique of Pure Reason. Two years later he decided to write a condensed version of this bookProlegomena-in which he wanted to present his ideas in a more comprehensive way to a readership without any previous experience in this area. In 1991, Ft. E. F. Matthews published the third edition of his excellent P/ant Virology (Academic Press, 1991) a book written for graduate students, teachers, and researchers in plant virology. This book requires some basic knowledge of the reader and, therefore, is perhaps not ideal for real beginners. Until recently, a student of plant virology or any other newcomer to the plant virus field wishing to gain a basic knowledge of this rapidly developing field had difficulty finding a suitable textbook: a visit to the library, even a well equipped one, was disappointing. Besides P/ant Virology, there were only specialized review articles or individual chapters in textbooks dealing with plant molecular biology. In most cases, these covered only particular aspects of plant virology. However, the demand for an elementary textbook on plant virology is now well satisfied by Matthews’ Fundamentals in Plant Virology, which is written especially for students and can also be understood by those with no previous knowledge of plant virology. The design of the textbook itself reflects the economy with which viruses use their genomic nucleic acids. The author gives a condensed account of the present state of knowledge in the field and also summarizes all the important aspects of plant virology. Fundamentals of P/ant Viro/ogy follows very closely the content of P/ant Virology, including many of the same figures but also new data. Schemes and drawings have been replaced in some cases by newer or clearer versions. Matthews defines a virus and summarizes its characteristics. He tries not only to provide the pure data but also to put them into a wider context. Instead of just mentioning, for example, the size and dimensions of viruses, presenting only the numbers, he explains that “. . . in a typical plant cell containing 10 million particles of a small virus only about 1% of the volume of the cell would be occupied by virus” (p. 2). In the following two chapters, he illustrates the methods used in (plant) virology, deviating from the concept of P/ant Virology. Chapter 2 has been added especially for beginners to introduce methods used generally in plant molecular biology. This should aid in a better understanding of the kinds of methods that yield the results
described. The methods are well explained together with their advantages, their disadvantages, and their appropriateness for particular situations. Oneof the most important techniques, especially for the coming decade, is the use of transgenic plants in the control of virus diseases. The author quotes their advantages and limitations but unfottunately does not discuss risk assessment in the use of transgenic plants expressing, for example, the coat protein or the movement protein of a virus. In subsequent chapters that follow closely the content of P/ant Virology, replication, organization, and expression of the different virus groups are outlined. After giving an overview of the various important components of the virus and the host and of different strategies used for expression of viral components, Matthews elaborates the characteristics of the different virus groups and subviral agents in a clear and concise manner. Again, he mentions not only the facts but also the methods used to gain this knowledge. As in f/ant Virology, Matthews not only gives a list of known viruses and their characteristics but also elucidates ecological, economical, and evolutionary questions and problems-aspects of plant virology often neglected. In contrast to P/ant Virology, however, he abstains almost completely from providing a historical background: at the end of the book there is a brief summary of the last 100 years of plant virology. This seems to be too short to allow students to appreciate the rapid evolution of the field and thus to stimulate maximal interest. The book can be read from cover to cover, and yet, although it is suitable for beginners, it does not oversimplify the facts. It is well structured, which makes it easy to find special topics, and there are many summaries at the end of each chapter and also the shorter sections (probably the result of positive responses from readers of P/ant Virology). In addition, important facts are often listed together with the summaries, a feature that will be particularly helpful for students. Each chapter closes with a short list of citations, always including P/ant Virology, which means that the full-length book is still indispensable, either for further reading or, more importantly, for references to the original papers. It is clear that this book cannot replace Plant Virology (which seems unlikely in any case to be the intention of the author!), but it can be used as an introduction to the field and as a basis for further reading. We enjoyed reading the book and highly recommend it to all students of plant virology and anybody seeking an overview in a condensed form of the present state of knowledge. We are sure students will be happy to have this book, as we would have been, and for further detail there is always P/ant Virology.
Waltraud Schmidt-Puchta Friedrich Miescher lnstitut 4002 Base1 Switzerland