Thursday, July 10, 2008

What are the 'bibles' of your field?

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde had a quick post on about how she doesn't read too many science books anymore (she's a postdoc), leading to the question of what's the point of a book length treatment when the science is always progressing? That's a good question, so go over there and comment on what you think is the proper role for science books.

But it's obvious that there are some books which most scientists in a given field own, and have read, and have incorporated into their thought process.

You know, the bibles of the field.

They're the books that everyone has on their shelf, the ones you spent your book money on as a grad student, the ones you point younger scientists to when they have a question, the ones you just know in your gut will have the answer once you peruse the table of contents. Some are methodological bibles, some are conceptual bibles, and some blend the two.

For electrophysiology, I can immediately think of three main bibles. They are, in no particular order:

"Ion(ic) channels of Excitable Membranes", by Bertil Hille, currently in its third edition. If it's a question about some fundamental basic property relating to ion channel function, or you want a good overview of the squid action potential, then this is the place to start. Still a favorite, though I have to say I prefer the 1992 2nd edition, for the tactile sensation of its cover, it's wonderfully incorrect title, as well as its modest overall size. The third edition sadly fails each of these criteria.

"Single-Channel Recording", 2nd edition, edited by Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann. Maybe you've heard of them, having won the Nobel in 1991 for their development and use of the patch clamp technique. The book is largely covers methodological questions, though it's title is a misnomer; it covers a lot more than just single channel recording.

"The Axon Guide" edited by Rivka Sherman-Gold. Published by Axon Instruments (now owned by Molecular Devices), it covers a lot of basic material as well as more detailed questions in an accessible, easy manner. It was out of print for some time, and then Axon made it freely available in pdf form. You can download it from the Overlord Master Molecular Devices here. Everybody I train in patch clamp gets this, and I quiz em about it. I especially like its treatment of filters and digitization, two topics which many young biologists haven't heard much about. And series resistance. Oh the series resistance. That my friends is a post in itself.

So, what are the bibles of your field?

Yeah yeah, Maniatis, ok whatever. What else ya got? Cause that's bor-ing!


Bill Hooker said...

Dammit, I was gonna say Maniatis. OK then, Molecular Biology of the Cell, although it's mostly good for quick refresher courses in the basics.

I often point colleagues to What is Life? and Structure of Scientific Revolutions, too; though they're not in my field I think any researcher would enjoy reading them.

Nat Blair said...

Good to know, even I, a physiologist whose thesis lab had no gel boxes and really no common molecular biology apparatus to speak of, has a copy of Mol. Biol of the Cell. Though I haven't yet decided if the Abbey Road photo is cool or lame. Definitely my first place to start for any cell biology related backstory.

Hmm, surprisingly I haven't yet checked out What is Life, but I will have to.

As for Structure of Scientific Revolutions, hell, I think every scientist should read it.

Toast said...

Pretty much just this one.

Nat Blair said...

Heh, I like any book where the authors are referred to as the Gang Of Four.

Object orientation....yeah, I have some vague weak understanding of it. But the extent of my programming is the ability to kludge together some crappy code to do my electrophysiological analysis. Which works, but I have the feeling it could be more efficient and easier to maintain if I knew some actual software engineering principles.

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde said...

I have to admit, and don't hate on me now, that the books I was gazing at thinking, "Crap, I oughtta be reading these" were Johnston and Wu, and Chuck Stevens' "Synapses," and Hille.

I have at least read Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but that's not quite the same.


Nat Blair said...

Hey, I don't think it's that embarrassing DrJMrsH. Hille is a good book, but it's a bit more centered on ion channels per se, and has relatively little on synaptic stuff. For a good start, you could check out chapter 2, on the squid axon (unless you've read the original H&H papers multiple times). Other than that, I find the chapters 10-18 (of 2nd ed) to be the meat of the book.

I have Johnston and Wu as well, but I haven't fully read it, and actually rarely peruse it. For example, compare and contrast Hille's treatment of the squid axon with that of Johnston and Wu (ch 6). J&W get a little too equationy.

And as for Synapses, I just haven't gotten into it. It reads too much like a series of reviews, and the book is damn heavy and hurts my nose as I start to fall asleep. I can do that with a printout, and not suffer so many bruises.

So I've read the first chapter for the historical overview, but few of the later chapters. I think maybe I read the one by Wade Regehr and Chuck on presynaptic calcium, but only because Wade's lab was next to where I did my thesis, and my best science friend worked there.

NeuroStudent said...

the Johnston & Wu has a nice chapter on extracellular fields & current-source density I always recommend it to anyone doing field potentials (it's sad how many people do them without actually understanding them)

and I love the Axon Guide!!! I swear, I slept with that thing under my pillow while building my rig when I started in the lab

A very subfield specific one that I like is The Hippocampus Book--Andersen, Morris, Amaral, Bliss, & O'Keefe--it's massive, but it's easier to hand someone that than to go dig out my stacks of papers (or find them on my hard drive)

neuropharma said...

I am a MSc student studying neuropharmacology. My BSc was in pharmacy which is somewhat different from what I'm doing right now, which means I'm quite a "newbie" in the field of neuroscience in general.

At the beginning of my lab work, I felt kind of lost because I felt that everything is new to me, including lab techniques and even the terminology used. I really needed I good book that would introduce me to the basics so that I could catch up and understand what's going on. My supervisor directed me to check "Principles of Neural Science" by Kandel and Schwartz to get the physiology and pathophysiology basics. The book was very helpful. I found it simple(bulky, though) and comprehensive and I think it would be a good start for anyone beginning from scratch in neurology like myself!

As for the techniques, I found "The Axon Guide" online and I just loved it. I printed it out and and I'm enjoying reading through it every day.

I also checked out "Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes" and "Single-Channel Recording" from the library (thank you Nat). They were excellent as well.

Any other suggestions (or advice)for me? (I'm kind of a bookworm so I like reading from several books simultaneously).

Nat Blair said...

@neurostudent - Ah, see, this is part of the use of getting people together with different expertise. Now when I do have a question about extracellular recording, I'll know to hit Johnston and Wu. And I'd never actually heard of the Hippocampus Book. Bad neurophysiologist, BAD!

@neuropharma - Welcome to the blog, and hope you're enjoying your lab work. And thanks for reminding me about Kandel's book. That is the one neuroscience big fat text book I have, but I rarely go to read it. Also, I still have the 2nd or 3rd edition (from whenever the wife was taking neuroscience in medical school, which seems like a hundred years ago), and haven't bothered to get a new one. That's somewhat telling.

Glad you found the suggestions useful. As for other books, the only ones that I have on my shelf may not be so useful. There's some microscopy books, a book on applying chemical kinetics to biological systems, a book on thermodynamics that I haven't read, and a physical chemistry book. Well, also a book on Python programming.

Actually, a great book is "Nerve, Muscle, Synapse" by Bernard Katz. If you don't know that much about synaptic physiology, this is a great little book.