Essential Cell Biology, 4th Edition
In our world there is no form of matter more astonishing than the living 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.
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 habitable 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 book 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 undergraduates and graduate students specializing in the life sciences or medicine. Many students and educated lay people who require an introductory 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 the book 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.
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