The dictionary of environmental microbiology

The dictionary of environmental microbiology

ARTICLE IN PRESS FOOD MICROBIOLOGY Food Microbiology 20 (2003) 617–618 Book Review The dictionary of environment...

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ARTICLE IN PRESS FOOD MICROBIOLOGY Food Microbiology 20 (2003) 617–618

Book Review The dictionary of environmental microbiology L.D. Stenzenbach, M.V. Yates; Academic Press, Hardcover, 178pp

I was intrigued by this slim volume that calls itself a dictionary of environmental microbiology. The Oxford American Dictionary defines a dictionary as ‘‘a book that lists and explains the words of a language or the words and topics of a particular subject, usually in alphabetical order.’’ This book defines terms found in microbiological writings and contexts. It provides a nice balance of terms that are associated with bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses as well as including terms found in statistics and molecular biology. The brief definitions assume prior knowledge or background in the subject, but then this volume is not an encyclopedia. Environmental microbiology is full of jargon, and just defining terms is often quite helpful to the reader. For those new to microbiology, the index of a comprehensive text might be a more appropriate place to look up unfamiliar terms. The book has some black and white figures scattered throughout, mostly of metabolic pathways, techniques, and statistical equations. They serve to break up the text and might be useful to the reader. I thought the statistical equations and graphs were especially nice, as I always have to look them up. Not having to negotiate an entire statistics book to be reminded of the appropriate formula or use is quite convenient. One of the strengths of this lexicon is that it has abbreviations and acronyms that one might not find elsewhere and which can frustrate researchers reading slightly out of their field. Full names of organizations, media, techniques, and procedures that are often abbreviated are spelled out, overcoming what can be a stumbling block to many trying to delve into new directions. For example, in this book, one finds EMB medium listed under ‘‘E’’, just where one would expect to find it. However, as I am quite fond of telling puzzled undergraduates, it can be found under ‘‘L’’ (for Levine) in the DIFCO manual on my lab shelf. Novice microbiologists can take great comfort that ‘‘PBS’’ is defined as ‘‘phosphate buffered saline’’ rather than ‘‘Public Broadcasting System.’’ Another strength of this book is that it defines terms that come under the heading of jargon. Here one can actually find ‘‘western’’ defined as ‘‘immunoblot’’ in one doi:10.1016/S0740-0020(03)00056-X

step rather than having to negotiate several difference references in a textbook index or wind up thinking about a movie genre or a type of omelet. Also listed and of great potential use are commercial names such as ‘‘parafilm’’ which are probably not found anywhere outside of a catalog. The book also gives brief descriptions of many microbes by their scientific names. There is a mixture of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses that are specified, although it is by no means a comprehensive list. The authors refer to their choices as ‘‘microbes of significance,’’ and I can’t say that I disagree. I could see the reason for their inclusion of the microbes chosen, but I could think of just as many organisms that were not included. It is not clear whether a user of this dictionary will find these definitions useful. On one hand, most microbiologists would look elsewhere to find out about an unfamiliar organism. However, this book is small and easy to negotiate, and one would find out very quickly whether the organism in question is listed. The description might give just enough information to satisfy a query. This book has a definite bias towards including environmental microbiology terms from public health, food safety, or fresh water perspectives. I could not find many soil or groundwater terms (such as ‘‘vadose’’), and while many acronyms are included, many of the US environmental legislation acronyms (NEPA, CERCLA, TOSCA, UMTRA) are noticeably absent. I found it interesting that the authors included brief biographies of certain pioneering environmental microbiologists although the inclusion or exclusion of certain figures is always quite subjective. Perusing this book would be a great reference for microbiology trivia questions. (What was the name of the epidemiologist who tracked down Typhoid Mary?) When scientists are included, the authors want to make sure that you can find them, so C.B. van Niel has two listings; one under ‘‘v’’ and the other under ‘‘N’’. On the other hand, ‘‘Hungate technique’’ is defined with no mention of Robert Hungate. For readers interested in comprehensive historical information on people, I suggest some other reference source. Is this book worth the list price of $65.95? It is certainly no substitute for good comprehensive textbooks in several subjects. However, there are many times we want just one brief answer rather than an index listing of half a dozen pages to turn to, one of which


Book Review / Food Microbiology 20 (2003) 617–618

might provide the desired information. This book will be of most use to those wading into slightly unfamiliar waters. It serves as a handy reference and in many instances will provide the reader with just enough information to move along.

Monica Lee Tischler Department of Biological Sciences, Benedictine University, 5700 College Road, Lisle, IL 60532, USA E-mail address: [email protected]