Journal of cell science 114 (13) Molecular trafficking: are some organelles more important than others? Essays in Biochemistry, Vol

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Molecular trafficking:

are some organelles

more important than


Essays in Biochemistry, Vol.

36: Molecular Trafficking

edited by Philip Bernstein

Portland Press (2000) 145 pages.

ISBN 1 85578 131 X


I recently gave a tutorial on protein

translocation across membranes to a

handful of carefully selected graduate

students at a prestigious institution with

a lot of groups working on protein

trafficking. None of the students knew

who Günter Blobel is, nor had they ever

heard of the signal hypothesis. 

Sadly, this edition of Essays in

Biochemistry on Molecular Trafficking

is not going to improve matters: neither

Blobel nor his seminal hypothesis are

mentioned in the chapter on protein

translocation into the endoplasmic

reticulum (ER). Signal recognition

particle is discussed in great detail, but

its function – the coupling of translation

and translocation – remains unexplained.

There is also no discussion of co- versus

post-translational translocation and no

mention of the great amount of work that

has been done on this subject in S.

cerevisiae. While on the whole the first

chapter is still informative and useful, it

would have been substantially better had

the editor caught these omissions.

Likewise, the second chapter – ER

chaperones – might have benefited from

vigorous editing to moderate its

eccentric pitch: it deals mainly with

obscure functions of chaperones in

peptide loading of the MHC class I

complex and tumour-antigen pres-

entation. In combination with the

confusing figures, I doubt that any

student or non-specialist will be able to

distil the main function of chaperones in

the ER – i.e. aiding protein folding –

from this review.

After that, it gets a lot better: the chapters

on vesicular transport and chloroplast

and mitochondrial import are what they

ought to be – well written, informative,

timely and comprehensible. The use of

figures to clarify complex biological

processes, however, is an art that is

difficult to master; here, Danny Schnell

succeeds for chloroplast import, whereas

Gordon and colleagues could have used

some help from a professional illustrator

to improve their depictions of the

admittedly complicated stages of

mitochondrial import.

I was surprised by the complete

omission of peroxisomal import in this

collection of reviews, especially given

the recent advances in this field. I

understand that it can be difficult to

persuade scientists to sacrifice time to

write book chapters, but surely, in a field

of significant size, somebody could have

been found to fill this gap. Equally

surprising was the extensive treatment of

transport into and out of the nucleus.

Having said that, I think that three of the

four chapters covering this subject are

extremely worthwhile. Rout and

Aitchison’s review of nuclear pore

structure is outstanding in its clarity,

especially given the enormous

complexity of the subject and the fact

that we are only beginning to understand

nuclear pore structure/function

relationships. Likewise, Barry and

Wente admirably summarize the wealth

of information on nuclear import and

export, and the tables and figures in this

chapter are particularly helpful.

Schwoebel and Moore’s treatise on

modulation of nuclear localization as a

method to regulate gene expression is as

elegant as the processes they describe. In

contrast, the chapter on viral RNA

export, while well written, seems rather

too specialized for a book that is aimed

primarily at students.

Altogether, this book is a useful teaching

aid for most aspects of protein

trafficking, and I would certainly

recommend it to my students – but not

without pointing out that the root of all

this work was the signal hypothesis.

Karin Römisch

Cambridge Institute for Medical

Research, University of Cambridge, UK

Crawling cells and

elastic stockings

Cell Movements: from

Molecules to Motility (2nd


by Dennis Bray

Garland Publishing (2001) 372 pages. ISBN 0-8153-



‘All mankind is divided into three

classes: those that are immovable, those

that are movable, and those that move’. 

If only Benjamin Franklin had laid his

hands on a copy of Cell Movements by

Dennis Bray, he might have been

tempted to change ‘mankind’ to ‘life’

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