Basic Biochemistry for Medical Students

Basic Biochemistry for Medical Students

18 BIOCHEMICAL EDUCATION Basic Biochemistry for Medical Students E d i t e d by P. N. C a m p b e l l a n d B. A. Kilby. 1975. A c a d e m i c P r e...

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Basic Biochemistry for Medical Students E d i t e d by P. N. C a m p b e l l a n d B. A. Kilby. 1975. A c a d e m i c P r e s s , L o n d o n , New Y o r k , S a n F r a n c i s c o . 4 7 2 p a g e s . £ 6 . 8 0 .

This is a textbook of basic biochemistry written specifically for medical itudents by members of the staff of the Department of Biochemistry at Leeds. The teaching of biochemistry to medical students poses special problems. In spite of the very high academic quality of medical students at the present time, their background knowledge of physical and organic chemistry and mathematics is often inadequate for present day biochemistry. Because pre-clinical courses are multidisciplinary, there are border zones where the responsibilities of different disciplines are ill-defined and this relates particularly to borderlines between biochemistry and physiology, pathology and morphological science. The question of the relevance to medicine of what is taught is a fashionable battlecry but to many of us, the banner borne aloft shows a red herring shrouded in mist. For us, terms such as relevance or irrelevance are confused terms meaning good or bad teaching. Be that as it may, there are problems in the relations between pure and applied science and teachers of pure science do have some responsibility for showing how their subject is of value in the applied field. Biochemistry is an important subject in the pre-clinical curriculum because of its considerable role in pathology, medical research and the diagnosis and treatment of disease. As the authors of this book have rightly emphasised, basic principles are of prime importance as the biochemical education which a medical student receives must serve as the basis of some forty years of professional life. The book was written by seven authors who have skilfully avoided the worst features of multiauthor volumes, and the obvious differences in style and approach are refreshing. The type is reasonably large and the pages relatively uncluttered and liberal use is made of formulae and figures, and the latter show a reasonable compromise between interest and the need for economy. The book covers acid-base dissociations, structure and properties of carbohydrates, nucleotides, proteins, polypeptides, lipids, etc., enzymes, intermediary metabolism, bioenergetics, extramitochondrial oxidations, m e m b r a n e s and transport processes, biosynthesis of nucleic acids and proteins and regulation of metabolism. Biochemistry is a mix of molecular morphology and metabolism and few elementary texts produce a mix which satisfies proponents of one or other approaches. This book is not far short of the mark, and could have approached the ideal if it had included chapters on the integration of metabolism, the biochemistry of excitable tissues (i.e. muscle, nerve, eye and secretory cells) and summarised the special metabolism of individual organs and tissues. It is unfortunate that the biochemistry of, for example, muscle contraction is not really covered. Perhaps, as a general criticism, there is insufficient attention to the biochemical basis of physiological processes. The question of the applications of biochemistry to medicine is not neglected, but it is unfortunate that an otherwise well-written and easily understandable chapter on acid-base dissociation, should dodge consideration of clinical acidosis and alkalosis. Such considerations have helped many medical students to understand the basic principles of pH and it is a disservice to both biochemistry and medicine to blame "pseudoscientific jargon". Some chapters were outstanding and those on bioenergetics, protein synthesis and membranes, were refreshingly modern in outlook, gave perspective (an important aspect of basic education) and were unusually economic in words. The chapter on enzymes I found somewhat erratic and old-fashioned in approach. Ligand binding is the basis of enzymology and the key to understanding enzyme kinetics, enzyme regulation and co-operative interactions, but unfortunately this approach was not adopted. The chapter on nitrogen metabolism on the other h a n d dealt with what can be a tedious subject in an ingenious and interesting way. The book abounds with irritating errors from an incorrect formula for a phosphate group in the introductory note on formulae, to Fig. 9.4 on page 306 which shows transfer of NAD and NADH across the mitochondrial m e m b r a n c e (this error is negatived on page 334).

January 1976 Vol. 4 No. 1

This book may break new ground in the teaching of biochemistry to medical students and with some modifications could become outstanding. Great pains have been taken to explain subjects which medical students have difficulty in comprehending. In spite of the criticisms, the book is a welcome addition to texts for medical students and is recommended. P. J. Randle Nuffield Department of Clinical Biochemistry Radcliffe Infirmary Oxford, U.K.

New Techniques in Biophysics and Cell Biology. Volume 2. E d i t e d by R. H. P a i n a n d B. J. S m i t h . J o h n Wiley, 1975. p p 398. £15. This book is intended for research workers, but many of the articles would make valuable reading for students interested in the theory and applications of specialised techniques. Usually the research scientist will be concerned with the possible use of the techniques described by the authors of the nine articles in this volume, in the solution of his own problem. This may present a situation very different from previous applications. Consequently the authors must explain the limitations of their particular methods and describe fully the critical conditions. This is of benefit to advanced students. Vol. 2 of New Techniques in Biophysics and Cell Biology gets off to a good start with an article by J. M. G r a h a m on Cellular Membrane Fractionation. This contains a readable and wellbalanced account of the theory of the identification of m e m b r a n e fractions and a critical assessment of the conditions employed for fractionation using methods dependent on centrifugation. The high standard is maintained in the second article by C. V. Hanson on techniques for obtaining and fractionating eukaryotic chromosomes. The article by I. Wadso on microcalorimetry is a good introduction to the theory of this technique. The design of the instruments to measure small quantities of heat is discussed. The mathematics of the system are treated in a somewhat cursory fashion. Plant cells may be cultured and the protuplasts derived from them will undergo cell fusion. A single plant cell retains the ability to produce a fertile plant. It is not surprising therefore that there is great interest in techniques of plant cell culture. The timely review of P. K. Evans and E. C. Cocking indicates that there are many problems still to be solved before the full potential of these procedures is exploited. However, dramatic progress has been made, and the scientific and economic benefits of these techniques could be vast. C-C. T u n g and R. B. Herbermann give a succinct survey of methods to detect antigens induced by oncogenic viruses. This article is followed by one by A. Suggett on the use of dielectric spectroscopy to study hydration. All biological systems contain water and a knowledge of the interaction of this solvent with biological molecules is vital to an understanding of life. This excellent contribution explains the information that can be derived from this and other techniques. It discusses the ways in which we may attempt to characterise the different states of water, and brings home to the reader the sparsity of present knowledge. Nanosecond pulse fluorimetry is not exactly a widely used technique. Most scientists would be hard put to it to describe it, or its potential applications. The first aspect is satisfactorily covered by P. Wahl in his contribution, but it is not clear how it is to be used in biological research. The article by J. Feeney on carbon-13 NMR spectroscopy shows clearly the value of this method in obtaining information that is difficult to acquire by any other technique. Instruments of greater sensitivity are required to exploit the method fully. The use of