Book Review

Christine Hassler

David Moore, Geoff Robson & Tony Trinci:
21st Century Guidebook to Fungi.

Paperback: 639 pages
Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Pap/Com edition (August 22, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0521186951
ISBN-13: 978-0521186957
Price: 52.00 EUR

The Neglected Kingdom

Neurospora crassa, growing on cellulose. Photo: Jamie Cate & Susan Jenkins, UC Berkeley & EBI

There are probably 1.5 million fungal species worldwide, but no more than 100,000 have been described so far. While fungi comprise a scientifically neglected group, three British mycologists have taken measures to change this.

They come in various shapes, colours and sizes. They may exude all kinds of smells, ranging from floury to radish-like, not to forget that hefty carrion-like stink. They are ecological jacks-of-all-trades. They produce much of our food, drink and medication. One of them is the best characterised of all eukaryotic cells: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, baker’s yeast.

Yes, let’s talk about fungi. Apart from a few well studied model systems, such as the red bread mould Neurospora crassa and, well, Saccharomyces, surprisingly, fungi comprise a scientifically neglected eukaryotic kingdom. Estimates run that of the probably 1.5 million fungal species worldwide, not more than 100,000 have been described, and far fewer have been characterised. Independent university departments of mycology are very rare; instead, the study of fungal sciences is mostly integrated into botany or microbiology departments, where it often encompasses a mere chapter in student curricula.

Getting justice for fungi

Considering the impact that fungi have on nature as well as our diet and health, that is a motive for three British mycologists to pack their expert knowledge and teaching experience into a comprehensive, state-of-the-art oevre of 600 pages. All three authors hold a scientific post at the University of Manchester as well as a current (in the case of Geoffrey D. Robson) or past presidency of the British Mycological Society. The first author, David Moore, has written several other expert books on fungi, complemented by the creation of educational websites harboring mycological content.

So, what does a work have to offer that bears the grand name 21st Century Guidebook? First, it’s a heavy paperback tome with flimsy cover pages. Not the kind of high-quality appropriate to its title and topic.

Secondly, don’t expect cutting-edge teaching! Throughout the text, there are no colours, no fancy boxes, few accentuations and highlights, no summaries at the end of chapters – indeed, in the 21st century we are left holding a tome that is chock full of plain text. This is, for more mature readers, no disadvantage, as we will see below. All figures embedded in the text are black and white as well, but each photo is also present in colour plate sections in the middle of the book. This duplication creates an acceptable three of the book’s 33 mm thickness and may be explained by the manuscript’s origin as a compilation of teaching resources. More importantly, the authors’ clear, comprehensible and accurate writing style is just perfect for a textbook.

Mycophilic dreams come true

A lucky fungi hunter in Italy (probably not so interested in mycology). Photo: Agriturismo Funghi e Fate

And the content selection makes all kinds of mycophilic dreams come true: In a total of six parts, the authors delve into topics such as the evolutionary origin and classification of fungi, fungal cell biology, genetics and biochemistry, as well as ecosystem mycology, the roles of fungi as pathogens of animals and plants, and fungal bio­technology. The 21st Century Guidebook to Fungi contains an enormous amount of referenced, up-to-date information about the third eukaryotic kingdom, while following a systems biology approach and strongly emphasising the interactions of fungi with other organisms and ecosystems. It includes numerous additional resources, such as internet links, and a companion CD, which contains a full, hyperlinked and searchable version of the book, several original papers and teaching material. The only feature missing is a glossary.

Able to stand its ground

Despite that, this textbook is able to stand its ground in the 21st century. Written for rather advanced students – the fundamentals of biochemistry and biology are a prerequisite – it is an extensive and modern, yet unpretentious resource. At the same time, it has the potential to spark and nourish many a biologist’s interest in mycology – this fascinating, poorly understood corner of the biological world.

Letzte Änderungen: 07.08.2013