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Molecular Biology of the Cell: Greatest Gen Bio text?

Alas, I phrased that carefully, as I’m not sure it’s the greatest INTRO bio general text, which is my focus. It has a very mechanistic/molecular bent, which aligns it perfectly with my bias. In truth, this post is as much about sharing it as a resource, as it is more-or-less free on line (more info below) and is accompanied by wonderful video tutorials that are also accessible. I’m referring to the textbook here, not the journal. The last (5th, 2008) edition is by Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and Peter Walters. Henceforth, I’ll just refer to it as “MBOC” or MBOC textbook…

MBOC textbook cover image
MBOC textbook


Newsflash! Bruce Alberts receives special Lasker award for his educational work

Bias alert (and justification thereof): As alluded above, this goes straight to my preferences, but I think many of those are general: a focus on how and why rather than a barrage simply of what and what-is-it-named. It’s my view that few textbooks today reflect deeply thoughtful efforts at determining what should (and should not!) be put in as well as what is the a pedagogically sound order of topic introduction (I think this is a huge and critical consideration, and it’s deceptively difficult, in that everything makes sense… if you already know it. Thinking like a student is hard!).

The there there:

The free, access-anything-you-can-find website for the MBOC textbook

Figures and text are clear, well thought out, and focused.

The really well thought-out, narrated videos (legal!) that accompanied the textbook. These do a wonderful job of integrating cartoons (with a focus on the key elements and nothing extraneous) with actual 3D structures where these would be illuminating. As an example, here’s translation, and here G-protein signaling. I’m not sure what the exact relationship is, but I believe some of the original videos were done by Graham Johnson (or perhaps the molecular modeling) and they’re wonderful. Here’s EF-Tu.

In teaching Introductory Biology, I have so far decided that this isn’t the right textbook because it’s out of print, and it often works at a more sophisticated level than folks with no background in molecular biology can achieve. But I think it makes a great topic-specific reference, and as such can be assigned to all because of the free web availability (another drawback for making it a primary is that everyone would have to track down their used copy).

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