Molecular Biology: A Very Short Introduction
Aysha Divan and Janice A Royds
Oxford University Press, £7.99
The concise nature of the books in this series leads to a high density of information without compromising readability.
The first half of this little volume introduces the molecules, replication, mechanics and analysis of nucleic acids and proteins, and is pitched at those with a limited background knowledge of biology.
Having grasped these fundamentals, the reader is led through the more recent developments in molecular biology that are so beyond what could have been envisioned during its advent around a century ago.
The technological applications of molecular biology are broad, and the book touches on seminal breakthroughs, well-known examples and topical developments. These include molecular 'pharming' of an anticoagulant in goat's milk, the use of monoclonal antibody ZMapp in Ebola treatment, the production of a recombinant vaccine to protect against hepatitis B and various gene therapy treatments that are on the horizon.
There is, of course, public wariness – even mistrust – of the intrusion of molecular biology into our environment and society. GM foods, in particular, gained a bad image in the popular press, although the increasing accuracy of the technology and long-term studies have helped dispel fears that modifying genomes is inherently dangerous.
The future of molecular techniques in disease research, detection and treatment is extremely promising. Yet here, too, there are ethical arguments that need to be addressed rigorously to gain widespread public approval. This is most vividly illustrated with genome editing involving CRISPR, which was recently used to correct a point mutation in the single gene disorder tyrosinaemia. CRISPR has been given approval in the UK for gene editing in early-stage human embryos, but there is a wide spectrum of opinions as to whether this is acceptable.
Reading this concise but robust text should assure readers that their views are informed by scientific reasoning.
Alexander Waller MRSB