In our world there is no form of matter more astonishing than the liv – ing cell: tiny, fragile, marvelously intricate, continually made afresh, yet preserving in its DNA a record of information dating back more than three billion years, to a time when our planet had barely cooled from the hot materials of the nascent solar system.
Ceaselessly re-engineered and diversified by evolution, extraordinarily versatile and adaptable, the cell retains a complex core of self-replicating chemical machinery that is shared and endlessly repeated by every living organism on the face of the Earth—in every animal, every leaf, every bacterium in a piece of cheese, every yeast in a vat of wine. Essential Cell Biology
Curiosity, if nothing else, should drive us to study cell biology; we need to understand cell biology to understand ourselves. But there are practical reasons, too, why cell biology should be a part of everyone’s education. We are made of cells, we feed on cells, and our world is made habit – able by cells. The challenge for scientists is to deepen our knowledge of cells and find new ways to apply it. All of us, as citizens, need to know something of the subject to grapple with the modern world, from our own health affairs to the great public issues of environmental change, biomedical technologies, agriculture, and epidemic disease.
Cell biology is a big subject, and it has links with almost every other branch of science. The study of cell biology therefore provides a great scientific education. However, as the science advances, it becomes increasingly easy to become lost in detail, distracted by an overload of information and technical terminology. In this Essential Cell Biology we therefore focus on providing a digestible, straightforward, and engaging account of only the essential principles. We seek to explain, in a way that can be understood even by a reader approaching biology for the first time, how the living cell works: to show how the molecules of the cell—especially the protein, DNA, and RNA molecules—cooperate to create this remarkable system that feeds, responds to stimuli, moves, grows, divides, and duplicates itself.
The need for a clear account of the essentials of cell biology became apparent to us while we were writing Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC), now in its fifth edition. MBoC is a large book aimed at advanced under – graduates and graduate students specializing in the life sciences or medicine. Many students and educated lay people who require an intro – ductory account of cell biology would find MBoC too detailed for their needs. Essential Cell Biology (ECB), in contrast, is designed to provide the fundamentals of cell biology that are required by anyone to understand both the biomedical and the broader biological issues that affect our lives.
This fourth edition has been extensively revised. We have brought every part of theEssential Cell Biology up to date, with new material on regulatory RNAs, induced pluripotent stem cells, cell suicide and reprogramming, the human genome, and even Neanderthal DNA. In response to student feedback, we have improved our discussions of photosynthesis and DNA repair. We have added many new figures and have updated our coverage of many exciting new experimental techniques—including RNAi, optogenetics, the applications of new DNA sequencing technologies, and the use of mutant organisms to probe the defects underlying human disease. At the same time, our “How We Know” sections continue to present experimental data and design, illustrating with specific examples how biologists tackle important questions and how their experimental results shape future ideas
As before, the diagrams in ECB emphasize central concepts and are stripped of unnecessary details. The key terms introduced in each chapter are highlighted when they first appear and are collected together at the end of Essential Cell Biology in a large, illustrated glossary.
A central feature of the Essential Cell Biology is the many questions that are presented in the text margins and at the end of each chapter. These are designed to provoke students to think carefully about what they have read, encouraging them to pause and test their understanding. Many questions challenge the student to place the newly acquired information in a broader biological context, and some have more than one valid answer. Others invite speculation. Answers to all the questions are given at the end of the book; in many cases these provide a commentary or an alternative perspective on material presented in the main text.
For those who want to develop their active grasp of cell biology further, we recommend Molecular Biology of the Cell, Fifth Edition: A Problems Approach, by John Wilson and Tim Hunt. Though written as a companion to MBoC, this Essential Cell Biology contains questions at all levels of difficulty and contains a goldmine of thought-provoking problems for teachers and students. We have drawn upon it for some of the questions in ECB, and we are very grateful to its authors.
The explosion of new imaging and computer technologies continues to provide fresh and spectacular views of the inner workings of living cells. We have captured some of this excitement in the new Essential Cell Biology website, located at www.garlandscience.com/ECB4-students. This site, which is freely available to anyone in the world with an interest in cell biology, contains over 150 video clips, animations, molecular structures, and high-resolution micrographs—all designed to complement the material in individual book chapters. One cannot watch cells crawling, dividing, segregating their chromosomes, or rearranging their surface without a sense of wonder at the molecular mechanisms that underlie these processes. For a vivid sense of the marvel that science reveals, it is hard to match the narrated movie of DNA replication. These resources have been carefully designed to make the learning of cell biology both easier and more rewarding.