Book Review

Weanée Kimblewood

Michael Green & Joseph Sambrook:
Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual.

Paperback: 2000 pages
Publisher: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press; 4th edition (June 15, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1936113422
ISBN-13: 978-1936113422
Price: 385.00 EUR

The Legend Lives On

The “Maniatis”, 1st edition.

30 years ago, a unique collection of lab protocols conquered molecular biologists’ work benches. Has the 4th edition of Molecular Cloning retained its unique characteristics?

When Tom Maniatis celebrates his birthday, Nobel laureate James Watson might drop in and surprise the attendees with an entertaining speech. Both scientists are close friends, since Maniatis was frightened away from Fred Sanger’s Cambridge MRC lab bench by gene technology protesters in 1976. Fortunately, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) on Long Island, Jim Watson offered shelter and, more importantly, a fresh bench to the young scientist. So Maniatis, although just appointed assistant professor, abandoned the UK and returned to the USA.

But Thomas Peter Maniatis, now 69 and an esteemed Harvard emeritus since 2009, isn’t just another molecular biologist. Maniatis is a cutting-edge scientist who made fundamental discoveries concerning the inter­relationship of DNA structure and gene expression. He developed tricky technologies to study how genes are activated and explored the mechanisms of transcription and RNA splicing. Maniatis also crossed the barriers between academic science and industrial application by co-founding three biotech companies (his first, the Genetics Institute, was one of the first biotechnology companies of all).

However, Maniatis’s impressive scientific career, culminating in winning the 2012 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science, together with developmental biologist, Donald Brown, is not the main source of his fame.

Cloning Bible

Tom Maniatis ca. 1976 and 2010 (with DNA model designer, Priscilla von Roeschlaub, and his former “lab landlord”, James Watson).

First and foremost, Maniatis is renowned for the authorship of a book. But what a book! After pioneering numerous methods for identifying and isolating genes in the 1970s, he finished a huge 545-page collection of proven and essential lab protocols at CSHL Press, Molecular Cloning: a Laboratory Manual in 1982. Edited by himself and his colleagues, Joe Sambrook and Edward Fritsch, this book had an enormous impact on the life sciences. Finally, a compact and comprehensible collection of methods for the application of recombinant DNA techniques was available for every “wet lab scientist”. By the way, the initial idea for the book came from Jim Watson.

The oversized paperback immediately found its way onto countless molecular biology lab benches from Boston and Beijing to Berlin. It became legendary, known as “The Maniatis”, quoted in the literature indices of countless scientific papers. Two further issues followed in 1989 and 2001.

Radically revised and remoulded

In June 2012, the 4th edition of “The Maniatis” was published, still authored by founding author Joe Sambrook, who was assisted by a new co-author, HHMI investigator Michael Green. The book’s size has reached an impressive 2,028 pages, sold as a three-volume set. What has changed in the new issue?

Better to ask what the authors didn’t change. First of all, they revised the core chapters radically, updating the dozens of methods and strategies for preparing, cloning and transferring nucleic acids. Then they incorporated state-of-the-art techniques, such as next-generation sequencing, RNA interference, Yeast-One/Two-Hybrid, and epigenetic analysis. Also very helpful is a chapter on bioinformatics, delivering a good starting point for the electronic handling of bio­logical data.

Let’s take chapter 10 (“Nucleic Acid Platform Technologies”) as an example to learn how the chapters are structured. After an easily understandable introduction into the topic of microarrays, especially suitable for non-experts, we learn what a microarray is. Then follows assistance in setting up and running a typical microarray experiment and information on which kind of scientific analyses suit those hybridisation platforms. After the theory, we are ready to perform a microarray experiment ourselves. Ten protocols describe and explain the ten most common procedures in detail: how to print microarrays, how to amplify and label DNA and/or RNA, how to block poly­lysines, and so on. The book lists the required reagents and equipment and offers troubleshooting, followed by a helpful discussion about possible results and difficulties. Barely a question remains unanswered.

Appropriate for the 21st century?

Except one: why in the world should a scientist spend 300 euros on a 6 kilo wad of paper? Every piece of information that it contains is available somewhere on the internet for free!

Yes, somewhere. In science, it isn’t free availability that matters. Speed matters, and credibility matters. But if it takes eternities to dig out the special method you need, you should shut down your browser and consult the Maniatis index. And compared to banking on the credibility of an anonymous contributor in an online discussion group, you’d be better off trusting Michael Green and Joseph Sambrook. The risk is high that the “sophisticated new miracle method” found on the internet proves to be time-wasting claptrap after weeks or even months. To squander your limited resources in this way is not sophisticated. It’s foolish.

After all, it’s always a good idea to widen one’s individual horizons. When skimming through the pages of Molecular Cloning, it is impossible not to gain new insights that will push your experiments forward.

Letzte Änderungen: 07.08.2013