Books on molecular biology: technical and historical
November 1, 2014 2:04 PM   Subscribe

My +1 is outfitting the molecular biology and biochemistry side of a physics lab. He would like to get books (electronic and/or paper) to fulfill two needs: 1. protocols and reference - for in lab use 2. history or textbook of molecular biology - to help familiarize physics people with the field. Looking for suggestions for solid books that are readable and have good figures.

I've been out of science and out of school for long enough that my ideas may be totally out of date (Watson/Alberts/Maniatis and Judson/Ptashne/Cairns) and my +1's training is in chemistry with a biochemistry slant.
posted by sciencegeek to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Alberts is still good for molecular cell biology - the sixth edition should be out soon. Judson is still the classic history of the field. Molecular Cloning is a good protocol book, although there may be good electronic options or better specialist books, depending on his subfield.
posted by pombe at 5:41 PM on November 1, 2014

I also came to recommend the Alberts and the Sambrook texts. Both are classics and still in wide use.

I'm honestly not sure I understand who is going to be using these books and for what, though. These are physicists trying to do some molecular biology on the side?
posted by juliapangolin at 6:14 PM on November 1, 2014

Response by poster: PI does physics which relates to a field that is intersecting with biophysics. My +1 who is doing a postdoc in her lab has an undergrad degree in biochemistry and a PhD in biochemistry. He did a reasonable amount of molecular biology in grad school but in a biophysics lab with limited interaction with molecular biology or biology labs. As he says, he's trained in 90s-00s molecular biology. He's read chunks of Maniatis and CSHL protocols but never had access to the whole thing.

He is essentially setting up a molecular biology lab in a physics department and would like suggestions on protocol books(or online protocol books), basic reference textbooks and books to give his PI for her to read to get up on molecular biology. The first two should be fairly easy to identify.

The last, books for his PI to read, could include books that discuss the history of molecular biology and include the actual science - ie avoiding pop-science or gossipy tell-alls - while we were talking about this he mentioned the Cairns book on phage research and I mentioned the Judson book Eighth Day of Creation. I also thought that the Ptashne book on phage was good. The PI is extremely intelligent and quick on the uptake. She will not likely be reading the protocol books.

That said, I haven't read this kind of thing in about ten years. So we're asking the hivemind for more recent books or if the old ones are still good.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:39 PM on November 1, 2014

If his library doesn't have it, online access to Current Protocols in Molecular Biology (and other relevant Current Protocols "books" can be really useful, especially when you're the only person in your lab doing a certain kind of work.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:00 PM on November 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

David S Goodsell's Machinery of Life looks neat. (image search)
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:24 PM on November 1, 2014

Yeah, all the 'Current Protocols' as juliapangolin mentioned are really excellent and regularly updated. The regular update schedule is the advantage over a print book, and I find the writing style clear and easy to follow (I used several protocols from the Immunology one during my PhD).

For historic interest and thinking about things in the right way, any biochemist who hasn't read The Selfish Gene by Dawkins needs to. I know his later everything is problematic, but this seminal early book is still excellent. It's not super long as I recall.
posted by shelleycat at 1:34 AM on November 2, 2014

As he says, he's trained in 90s-00s molecular biology.

Some of the main changes in things since then is the use of siRNA as a standard lab tool, more recently CRISPR is gaining importance, increased access to good antibodies, and Kits For Everything. Seriously, I've talked with recent students who don't know you can extract plasmids without a mini kit.

For the latter, looking through the catalogue of some big lab supply companies in your area will give an idea of what's available. Talking with the reps about what other labs buy regularly is also good - not everything in the catalogue works.

For the former things, nothing beats reading recently published articles in the general area you're interested in with an eye for how they are structured and how the techniques are stacked to complement each other. Which they will all be doing any way.
posted by shelleycat at 1:41 AM on November 2, 2014

I found Oliver Morton’s Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet fascinating. The first third is about the molecular biology of photosynthesis and how it was worked out molecule by molecule.

A more extensive review I wrote:
posted by sindark at 2:15 PM on November 3, 2014

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