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Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2nd Edition


Author: Teresa Atwood, Peter Campbell, Howard Parish and Tony Smith

Publisher: Oxford University Press


Publish Date: August 24, 2006

ISBN-10: 198529171

Pages: 736

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

It is a decade since the first edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. It was a remarkable work of scholarship, arising from the work of journal editors and scientific writers. Since then the landscape of biochemistry has changed immeasurably. The genome sequences have laid out the blueprints of whole organisms, especially Man. They have revealed the diversity of gene expression, and the complex systems by which cellular molecules organize themselves. The molecular basis of many diseases has been revealed, and vital cellular components discovered.

The literature is more diverse than ten years ago. The identification of the genes has rushed ahead of the biochemical characterization of their functions. Many protein and nucleic acid factors have been discovered. While their functions are incompletely understood, they are referred to by laboratory shorthand abbreviations. These are well understood by the investigators who work on them, but the mass of them becomes very confusing to the student, or to those viewing biochemistryfrom the outside. New methods of bioinformatics have been developed to bridge the gap. Meanwhile the ‘-omics’ projects have introduced new layers of complexity as we see the interactions between macromolecules leading to new emergent properties.

As predicted in the first edition, the influence of the Internet has expanded. Instead of searching for information in libraries, students now usually go first to a search engine. So, does such a dictionary have a role in the age of Google? In fact it has gained in sales and popularity. Evidently it fills a need for a source of reliable information that is not always so easy to find. A revised version of the dictionary, with some additions and corrections was printed in 2000. At that time, the need for a complete revision was apparent. The work continued with a new team, recruited by the ever-enthusiastic Peter Campbell. We deeply regret that he did not live to see the completion of this task, having died on February 8th 2005 from complications after an accident.

In order to keep the dictionary as a handy reference volume, we have endeavoured to avoid it becoming much heavier. It is only by being selective that there are only about 20% more entries than the first edition. Most of the appendices have been removed, or their useful parts transferred. The listed Nobel prizewinners in biochemistry and molecular biology have been omitted except for eponymous entries, when they have lent their names to compounds or procedures. There has been a judicious removal of some older terms, though we found that surprisingly few have disappeared from the literature to such an extent that they are obsolete.

The literature abounds with laboratory shorthand names, database identifiers; TLA’s (three-letter abbreviations) and other acronyms are extremely common, and a notorious source of ambiguity. We have cited these selectively, sometimes to indicate that a word or phrase has two meanings in different contexts. In the printed form we can show the full range of printed characters – boldface, italic, sub- and superscripts, Greek letters – that make up the syntax of many of the names, and that are difficult to find with search engines. The dictionary is not intended to be a nomenclature document, and the terms that are in the entries are generally those that are in common use. We continue the practice of pointing the reader in the direction of recommended
terminology and nomenclature. Nomenclature rules are applied less prescriptively these days; ‘recommended’ chemical nomenclature has become ‘preferred’; ‘recommended names’ for enzymes have given way to ‘common names’.

A great many of the new entries, on inherited diseases and much else besides are provided by Frank Vella, drawing on the eclectic collection of topical papers that he assembled for his columns in journals such as IUBMB Life. The entries on bioinformatics and genetics, which have assumed greater importance in BMB over the past decade, have been bolstered by the work of Terri Attwood and John Stirling. Finally it has been a pleasure to work with John Daintith and Robert Hine of Market House Books, whose expertise in chemistry and biology meant that their assembly of the book was an expert job.

The content of such a dictionary is necessarily selective. We have tried to ensure that the entries in the dictionary reflectcurrent usage in biochemistry and molecular biology. As always, we are grateful to readers who point out errors in the present text.

Richard Cammack
March 2006

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