Seeing the wonders within the cell in all their glory

Bionanotechnology - lessons from nature
David S. Goodsell
Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Liss 2004 | Pp 337 | ?47.50 | ISBN 047141719X
Reviewed by Michael Gross

Textbooks tend to show the cell as a cuboid with rounded edges containing only a few neatly arranged protein complexes. While graphic oversimplification is often necessary for didactic purposes, one should never forget that real life cells are anything but neat and simple.

For anybody who wants to know what life at the nanometre scale really looks like and doesn’t have an electron microscope at hand, David Goodsell’s illustrations are the best window into the nanoworld. In 1993 he gave us The machinery of life, including fantastic drawings that made the emerging concept of molecular crowding in the cell a palpable reality. The cover of the book alone-a cross section of a bacterium, magnified 200,000-fold and jam-packed with ribosomes and other machinery-made the viewer wonder how anything inside a cell can move at all. Finding the right molecule to interact with is in fact like finding Wally in the overcrowded pages of the popular children’s books.

With Bionanotechnology, structural biologist Goodsell now builds a bridge to applied science and presents the molecular machines of the cell not only with the much improved structural insight available a decade after the first book, but also with a view towards making the understanding of their mechanisms useful for our own nascent attempts at controlling matter on the nanometre scale.

At first glance, the resulting volume looks like a compact textbook, particularly due to the chapter subheadings that summarise the contents of the following paragraphs in a short sentence (eg: ’The Hydrophobic Effect Stabilizes Biomolecules in Water’). But with its stunning two-colour drawings and a highly readable text, one should hope that this book will not only educate students but also reach a wider audience.