Chemistry through models

Chemistry through models

BIOCHEMICAL EDUCATION The Leains By Jfirgen R o t h . P p . 186. V E B G u s t a v F i s c h e r V e r l a g , Jena, 1978. 59, - M . Lectins have rec...

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The Leains By Jfirgen R o t h . P p . 186. V E B G u s t a v F i s c h e r V e r l a g , Jena, 1978. 59, - M . Lectins have received much attention, primarily because of their use to cell biologists as an investigative tool. The physiological role of such carbohydrate-binding proteins is still (after 100 years of research into the problem) an open-ended question - - but a question which is beginning to attract the curious. The discovery that lectins were not merely obscure constituents of seeds, but could be found in both growing plant and mammalian cells, and what is more, as membrane components of those cells, has undoubtedly stimulated the interest of biologists. The reversible interaction of a lectin with its glycosylated receptor in the same membrane could be used to regulate the carbohydrate-binding potential of the lectin at specific times during the cell cycle or developmental sequence. Thus, the involvement of lectins in cellular communication and recognition events is being studied intensely and represents one of the most dynamic and exciting fields in cell biology at the present time. This interest in lectins, when the dust of the band wagon has settled, may well filter through the system into the teaching syllabuses at university level. With this in mind, it is worth considering whether the monograph: 'The Lectins' by Jfirgen Roth is a suitable candidate for teaching purposes. The answer to my mind is no. Clearly, this monograph could be useful to the committed specialist, since Roth has attempted to collate information about lectins from a wide spectrum of sources: and certainly succeeds in presenting a very detailed list of references (50 pages of the 180 pages). In the remaining space allocated to the written text, there are 12 sections dealing with various aspects of seed lectins and their use as a molecular probe in biochemistry and cell biology. The text is undoubtedly thorough, but the presentation is not conducive to long hours of reading and at times the detailed reporting of information merely becomes a listing of data and references to original sources. In the sections devoted to techniques, such a style can be helpful since it enables the reader to quickly find relevant data and references to methods. However, the monograph makes no attempt to distinguish between the important and the unimportant, the critical and the uncritical. General themes Roth writes about, such as membrane structure, the cell surface, membrane recycling and malignant transformation have been reviewed many times, and sometimes brilliantly, in recent years. There are therefore, many better alternatives for teaching purposes. Similarly, information he gives on the structure and purification procedures of the various seed lectins has also been presented in standard reviews. A discussion of the use of seed lectins as investigative tools would best be taught in the context of the molecules the lectins are used to investigate: the membrane glycoproteins and glycolipids. There are several new and excellent textbooks covering all aspects of these molecules - - whether in or out of membranes. In conclusion: this monograph may be useful as a collection of references on the methodoligical application of seed lectins. However, as a textbook to present such an exciting topic as lectins to the uninitiated: that, it is not. Diana Bowles European Molecular Biology Laboratory 69 Heidelberg Germany

Megawatt Infrared Laser Chemistry By E. G r u n w a l d , D . F. Dever, a n d P. M . K e e h n . J o h n Wiley a n d Sons. (New Y o r k , C h i c h e s t e r , B r i s b a n e , T o r o n t o ) 1978. Price £10.60, p p . 107. One of the dreams of chemists is to be able to activate and break a specific bond, selected at will, leaving the rest of the molecule undisturbed. This dream is coming true. Powerful infrared lasers, tuned to a vibration frequency of the target molecule, can cause specific photochemical decompositions. This new weapon for the kineticist's armoury has so far been mainly directed towards the study of gas-phase reactions. The limitations of laser tunability can

January 1979 Vol. 7 No. 1


be partly overcome by the use of sensitizers. Applications to solid state or solution kinetics are just beginning to appear in the chemical literature. This book gives an excellent introduction to the subject. It is easy to read and well illustrated. Both the physical and chemical aspects are clearly explained without recourse to jargon, and with the minimum of essential mathematical formalism. The emphasis is on results and practise; theory is treated with refreshing scepticism by the authors, who are all chemists. As pulse radiolysis and (visible/ UV) photolysis have their place in biochemistry, so infrared pulse photolysis will probably find its place. This is a book to buy for those who want to board the bandwagon before it starts rolling. School of Chemistry University of Leeds, U.K.

P. Gans

Chemistry through Models By Colin J. Suckling, K e i t h E. Suckling a n d C h a r l e s W . Suckling. P p . 321. C a m b r i d g e University Press, C a m b r i d g e U . K . a n d New Y o r k . 1978. £15.00. It is refreshing to read a book that replaces none that exists, and that cannot usefully be compared with any competitive text. "Chemistry through Models", however, may sell less well than it deserves because of a misleading title; the sub-title "Concepts and application of modelling in chemical science, technology and industry" tells one what it really is about. The authors take one rather laboriously through some abstract discussions of modelling in principle, before reaching applications in pure chemistry around p. 65. Accounts of a good many types of modelling of chemical phenomena then follow, the reviewer concluding that since the degree of over-simplification of the "non-classical carbonium ion" problem might be typical, he would be wise not to trust the exposition of areas where he did not already have a good smattering of knowledge. Nevertheless, some very interesting matters are touched on, and occasionally illuminated, and references to the literature are adequate for further exploration. Molecular models themselves, far from constituting the whole book, are discussed in a mere six pages, without any evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of the many types available. Biological systems enter on p. 191, and the book improves; examples are given of the relationship between model and prototype in primary and secondary metabolism, and in the mechanisms of action of various enzymes. In the two final chapters, on "Designing Chemical Plant" and "Innovation" material is presented perceptively that the chemistry or biochemistry student will probably encounter nowhere else. It should arouse his interest and give him some appreciation of the difficulties a chemical engineer has to face in translating even a simple laboratory synthesis to plant operation. Perhaps the authors' analysis of the problems that a new invention must surmount merely illustrates the attitude of the bleak nineteen-seventies in Great Britain; they quote "Emerson's aphorism that you have only to invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to the door", and dismiss it, without qualification, as untrue. But, after all, it did seem true, at the time and in the place when it was made; the real problem is, why is it not true here and now? Perhaps it is true, even now, in Japan or South Korea; and we should be making models of the societies of nineteenth-century U.S.A. or twentiethcentury Japan, to see if we cannot make our own more receptive toward innovation. The reviewer was disappointed not to see an astringent evaluation of the global mathematical models of the future of the world that have secured so much publicity; one noncommittal sentence on the Club of Rome is all we get. Indeed, the main general criticism to be made is the lack of counter-examples, of cases where a modelling operation has reached conclusions contrary to fact, or contrary to the results of other models, through excessive use simplifying assumptions. But it would be a pity to end on a minor key. The book is novel and contains much of interest to students of chemistry and biochemistry. Incidentally, it is well produced, contains an index, and is marred by few trivial errors. Department of Organic Chemistry M . C . Whiting The University of Bristol Bristol, U.K.