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Review of: Two resources for laboratory students: Lab Ref, Volume 1: A Handbook of Recipes, Reagents, and Other Reference Tools for Use at the Bench; Jane Roskams, ed.; (2002). Cold Spring Harbor Press, Cold Spring Harbor, NY. 272 pages; and Lab Dynamics: Management and Leadership Skills for Scientists, 2nd ed.; Carl M. Cohen and Suzanne L. Cohen; (2012). Cold Spring Harbor Press, Cold Spring Harbor, NY. 280 pages.
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Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
Volume 13, Number 2204
previous knowledge of biology. Zimmer’s prose informs and
invigorates the imagination while awakening our collective
sense of wonder at being alive.
Beginning with the discovery of E. coli in 1885, Zimmer
neatly expounds on how the “story of E. coli and modern
biology are intertwined” rst by examining the nature of
the gene, the genetic code, organization of DNA structure,
and the role of bacteriophage. This is followed by forays
into the chemical geography of cells, metabolism, motility,
biolms, and gene regulation. The life of an E. coli cell is
scrutinized from its birth and growth until it enters its nal
phase of aging and decay. The rst few chapters of the book
are reminiscent of an updated 21st-century footnote to the
classic Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas. However, Microcosm
delves deeply into each subtopic, providing the reader with
experimental evidence to support Jacob Monod’s claim that
“what is true for E. coli is true for the elephant.”
Another major theme in the book is how new species
form and what we can learn by watching evolution “real
time” in E. coli. The idea that “members of a species are
individuals with the same essence” is challenged by the
numerous guises of E. coli, whether as friend (the harmless
laboratory strain K12) or foe (the deadly strain O157:H7).
We are reminded that evolution “blurs the line between
killers and protectors.” Scientists have studied the narrative
history written in the genome of E. coli and reveal “open
source evolution” being driven through horizontal gene
transfer. Describing life as a “braiding stream of genes,”
Zimmer demysties the reading of genomes with an apt
metaphor. Rather than thinking of a genome as an instruc-
tion manual, he regards it as a “recycled book known as a
palimpsest” with all of the history of the organism written
and rewritten through the ages. From a fascinating discus-
sion on deciphering genomes, the book then explores the
essential role of E. coli in the modern age of biotechnology
and synthetic biology. Some controversial issues pertaining
to genetic engineering and creationism are briey raised.
The only drawback of the book is its lack of supporting
gures in some chapters. While there are several simple
gures showing the circuits controlling agellar assembly, an
entire discussion of evolution and the “tree of life” lacks any
gures at all. Even with the vivid prose descriptions, a few
more visual treats would have been appreciated, particularly
by a general audience. This book is highly recommended
for college-level biology courses. Rather than assigning
the entire book, selected chapters could be used as read-
ing assignments for class discussions. There are also many
excellent examples and bibliographic resources that may be
helpful for instructors who want to assign primary research
articles on specic topics in microbiology. Microcosm should
be read by anyone who wants to be an informed citizen in
the age of molecular biology.
Brinda Govindan
San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
Helpful Resources for Mentoring Novice Re-
Review of: Lab Ref, Volume 1: A Handbook of Recipes, Reagents,
and Other Reference Tools for Use at the Bench; Jane Roskams,
ed.; (2002). Cold Spring Harbor Press, Cold Spring Harbor,
NY. 272 pages. Lab Dynamics: Management and Leadership
Skills for Scientists, 2nd ed.; Carl M. Cohen and Suzanne
L. Cohen; (2012). Cold Spring Harbor Press, Cold Spring
Harbor, NY. 280 pages
When mentoring research students, and possibly pre-
paring them to run their own lab someday, the educator
is an important model. Sometimes, it feels impossible to
convey precisely what types of attributes are needed to
successfully run a research laboratory. It is even harder to
draw a line between the social and the technical skills that
that the good principal investigator must master. These two
very different books offer help in both elds.
The rst book, Lab Ref, Volume 1: A Handbook of Recipes,
Reagents and Other Reference Tools for Use at the Bench, does
an excellent job providing an easy-to-nd and easy-to-use
description of protocols used in the typical biology lab. I
have found the book very useful to introduce undergradu-
ates to lab work. It has six sections describing protocols
and the last one includes reference tables and useful web
sites. The rst appendix (Appendix 1: Cautions) should
be mandatory reading for every student that steps into
a research lab, as it summarizes basic safety procedures
and general properties of common chemicals, and it also
provides a detailed list of hazardous materials. In brief,
this Appendix covers the essential information needed to
function safely in a research laboratory.
Going through the sections is a good way for your
students to learn the basic skills needed in a biology labo-
ratory. The blank pages at the end of each section allow
customizing the book for your unique needs. It should be
mentioned that the book may lack the background needed
for a novice to fully understand some of the protocols de-
scribed. Yet, it will not overwhelm students with extensive
background and commentary. It is easy to scan through
and to nd the relevant information for whatever task you
are facing. It may not be completely comprehensive, but it
will be always a step in the right direction.
The second book, Lab Dynamics: Management and
Leadership Skills for Scientists, is about the interpersonal
skills needed to be successful in science. The authors, a
scientist and a psychotherapist, dissect the stereotypes of
scientists and offer suggestions and strategies to deal with
problems that we likely face at some point in our profes-
sional lives. The book is primarily written for leaders in
academia and industry, but Chapter 6 (“A Delicate Art:
Manage Your Boss”) should be read by all students who
plan to spend time in a lab. It is also a useful reading for
principal investigators that are starting their careers. The
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Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
205Volume 13, Number 2
authors use principles of group and behavioral psychology
that many of us don’t typically consider but may be useful
to some. I strongly recommend all principal investigators
to start by reading Chapters 1, 2, and 3. Even if you do not
love the reading, I am sure you will recognize yourself in
one of the many case studies presented in each chapter. If
you enjoyed the reading you should continue and even do
some of the exercises and experiments presented at the
end of each chapter. Chapter 5, “Team Meetings: Who’s
in Charge Here,” will resonate with anyone who has sat
through long and unproductive lab meetings and wants
to improve them. Other chapters are very specic. For
example, Chapter 10 is about the transition from academia
to industry so it should be read only if it applies to your
situation. Each chapter stands on its own, helping you to
use your time wisely. How deeply you want to analyze
your own, or your group’s behavior, is your choice. Still,
you will be wiser about yourself and the people you work
with after reading this book. In summary, it is an interest-
ing book but its overall usefulness may depend upon your
own needs and personality.
Monica Trujillo
Queensborough Community College, CUNY, Bayside, New
York, NY
Perspectives on Cholera Pandemics in Africa
Review of: Africa in the Time of Cholera: A History of Pandemics
from 1817 to the Present; Myron Echenberg; (2011). Cam-
bridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 232 pages.
In Africa in the Time of Cholera Myron Echenberg
provides a very readable, thorough, historical, and cur-
rent perspective on cholera in Africa. Seven African
pandemics can be distinguished between 1817 and 2008,
with the rst six occurring before 1947 and the last oc-
curring since the mid-1970s. A distinction between the
pandemics is the fact that an inexpensive, reliable, oral
rehydration therapy (ORT) was readily available before
the start of the last pandemic resulting in fewer deaths.
Common themes found in all the pandemics include the
impacts of the:
overabundance of water, lack of water, lack of water
treatment, and water use for irrigation;
lack of sanitary toilets and sewage treatment;
increased stresses on existing resources through
immigration and emigrations precipitated by war,
drought, famine, and pilgrimages;
lack of medical personnel and problems in trans-
porting existing personnel to pandemic locations;
lack of availability of antibiotics, IV uids, and the
questionable efcacy plus lack of availability of
classes, social groups, and ethnicities of the popula-
tions involved;
reliance on prayers and traditional, but ineffective,
presence of viral and bacterial diseases/diarrheas
in the already-stressed people;
potential for retention of the pathogen in the en-
vironment through dormancy; and
pathogenicity of the various strains including toxin
The case fatality rate (CFR) has varied greatly depend-
ing on the timing, the location, and the ethnicity of the
population involved. Within the rst six pandemics the
CFR varied from 14.8 to 57%. Within the latest pandemic
the CFR varied from 1% to 5.7%. A major factor in the
decreasing rates has been the development of the ORT
which combines glucose, sodium chloride, potassium
chloride, and trisodium citrate or sodium bicarbonate in
water. Based on the contents, the packets don’t require
a prescription and should be easily transported, and the
uids can be administered by virtually anyone. Although
this therapy has been found to decrease the CFR from
close to 60% to less than 2%, outbreaks still occur. Africa
continues to be an area of concern, with 99% of the total
global incidence. The disease will continue to occur until
sanitation and hygiene are greatly improved, and reliable
sources of potable water are readily available.
Readers of the Echenberg book may already be familiar
with The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson (2). Coverage of the
causes, symptoms, and treatment difculties were similar
in both books. A major difference is the geographical area
involved. Johnson focused on one drinking water well in Lon-
don, while Echenberg covered multiple sources throughout
Africa plus some coverage of other pandemics. Another
major difference was the timing. Johnson covered the 1854
epidemic, while Echenberg covered seven pandemics from
1817 through 2008.
Readers with more of a focus on Africa may also be
familiar with William T. Close’s book Ebola (1), which cov-
ered Zaire rather than the broad areas of Africa covered by
Echenberg. An additional difference is the involvement of the
authors. While Echenberg and Johnson utilized information
from a number of sources, Close had a direct involvement
with the epidemic and the treatment of the people involved.
The Echenberg book is highly recommended as a
comprehensive book on cholera that is well written, easily
read, data driven, and a great source of information on all
the pandemics.
1, Close, William T. 1995. Ebol a. Ballantine Books, New
Yor k , N ew Yor k .
2. Johnson, Steven. 2007. The Ghost Map. Riverhead Books/
Penguin Group, New York, NY.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The Ghost Map. Riverhead Books/ Penguin Group
  • Steven Johnson
Johnson, Steven. 2007. The Ghost Map. Riverhead Books/ Penguin Group, New York, NY.