Book Review

Larissa Tetsch

Michael Roberts & Anne Kruchten:
Receptor Biology.

Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Wiley-VCH; 1 edition (May 2, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 3527337261
ISBN-13: 978-3527337262
€ 70(Softcover).

What do these creatures want to tell us? Cartoons (2): Julien Tromeur/Fotolia

Communication is Everything

Compiling all available information about receptor-mediated communication, receptor types and the processes involved, is a laborious and commendable endeavour. But in the case of Receptor Biology less could have been more.

Receptors are a bacterium’s eyes, ears and nose. They represent all of its senses, enabling communication and the perception of environmental stimuli. Consequently, receptors are fundamental to the bacterium’s ability to adapt to ever changing environmental conditions and hence survival.

In eukaryotic cells, these functions are mostly retained. Receptors measure the concentration of molecules in the environment, such as that of glucose in the blood, and receptors are required to “listen” to other cells that “speak” via growth factors and hormones. Thus, bio­logical communication via receptors is involved in nearly all the activities of living cells.

Unfortunately, Receptor Biology focusses mainly on eukaryotic cells. Bacteria are only briefly dealt with, and typical bacterial receptor systems, like the two-component systems, comprising a histidine-kinase and its cognate response regulator, or elaborate one-component systems, combining receptor and transcriptional activator function in one single polypeptide, are completely missing.

Bacteria? Only briefly dealt with...

Altogether, bacterial receptors are covered mostly in the context of processes in which they are involved (e. g. quorum sensing) instead of in the context of mechanisms like the two-component systems mentioned.

However, this disappointment may be attributed to your reviewer’s expectations as a microbiologist who – given the title Receptor Biology – expected to read something on her own research topic. The book, written by two American college professors, evoked mixed emotions. On the one side, the precise use of definitions, the distinct language and the global approach were pleasant surprises, on the other, the train of thought, albeit in principle elaborated, often remained blurred due to too many subitems.

From sponges to mammals in 200 pages

I must confess that as someone, who has studied bacterial receptors for several years and taught eukaryotic signal transduction mechanisms to medical students, I expected to more or less know everything written in this book. However, I soon realised that – to use Socrates’ bon mot that also found its way into Receptor Biology – “I know one thing, that I know nothing”. The book covers an extremely broad spectrum of topics and requires of the reader an equally broad knowledge of general zoology, physiology, developmental biology, neurobiology, immunology and so on. Or at least an above-average interest in all of them.

Looking representatively at a chapter about the development of a multi­cellular body plan, we encounter evolutionary history, starting with the Porifera and Cnidaria via the Bilateria until the Proto­stomes and the Deuterostomes with detailed coverage of the emergence of a mesoderm, the mechanism of egg-sperm-recognition, eye development, nerve growth and apoptosis, to mention just a selection. Another section spans from the development of memory in invertebrates and vertebrates to long-term potentiation to the distribution of depression and social-level actions, thus dipping into sociology and psychology.

All these examples are interesting but often seem rather far-fetched and not necessarily helpful for understanding the principles of receptor-mediated signalling. Naturally, in a book with roughly 200 pages, none of the topics mentioned above can be covered thoroughly and indeed information is often provided rather superficially in order to be brought up again later and thus examined from different sides. In consequence, the main message is diluted by too many irrelevant details and even the choice of the aspects presented sometimes seems arbitrary.

Less might have been more

Because of this immense richness of topics and the high density of information, Receptor Biology is definitively not a storybook, as suggested by the literature quotations at the beginning of each chapter and many historical excursions. It is also not a typical textbook, due to insufficient boxes, summaries and easy-to-follow figures. Some of the chapters are quite text-dominated, others feature a lot of figures, albeit of variable quality and sometimes bad resolution. There is a detailed glossary and an index, as well as a reference list, including about 500 references. Altogether, I see Receptor Biology as a kind of encyclopaedia that covers everything connected to receptor-mediated signalling (which in biology and medicine is indeed a lot). From this point of view, it is certainly an important book that I would not want missing in my private library.

However, the Roberts/Kruchten opus was written for, “advanced undergraduate and early graduate students with a fundamental understanding of chemical and biological principles”. I wonder if the target audience will be able to follow to the extent needed to evaluate the significance of the given information. I suspect that as an undergraduate student, the book would have overtaxed me with its dense information.

Letzte Änderungen: 30.08.2016