Archaea: Evolution, Physiology and Molecular Biology
R.A. Garrett and H.-P. Klenk (Editors)
2006, Blackwell Publishing, 388 pages
$149.95 (US)

Publisher's website

Archaea: Molecular and Cellular Biology
R. Cavicchioli (Editor)
2007, ASM Press, 523 pages
$129.95 (US)

Publisher's website

Reviewed by Norman R. Pace, University of Colorado, Boulder

The archaea were discovered by Carl Woese and his colleagues thirty years ago, in 1977. It became clear over the following decade, through biochemical and phylogenetic results, that archaea constitute a third primary line of evolutionary descent, more akin to eukaryotes than to bacteria. Archaea gained some notice in the public eye, usually in the context of weirdness or primitiveness, but they have remained unfamiliar to most scientists, even microbiologists.

One reason for their unfamiliarity has been that scientific information on archaea, particularly reviews, is widely scattered in the microbiological literature, often in journals that are not widely available. Thus, review volumes on these organisms serve a special role in bringing together disparate topics under one cover. It is remarkable, therefore, that since their discovery only a few such volumes on archaea have emerged, the most recent until now in the early 1990s, very early days in archaeal research. In light of that long gap in time, it seems even more remarkable that two new review volumes on archaea should emerge at the same time. Both are good, if somewhat different. Both also fill an information void. How do they stack up against one another?

As the titles promise, these two volumes both provide up-to-date reviews of various aspects of archaea, written by leading authorities in archaeal research. The books take a slightly different tact in assembling the information reviewed. The Garrett-Klenk version mainly addresses molecular biology, with less attention to physiology. It includes a series of 11 broad review articles plus a collection of 14 "specialist articles," more experimentally oriented articles pertinent to the broad reviews. In some contrast, the Cavicchioli volume is a straightforward collection of 23 broad reviews. This latter approach allows somewhat broader coverage. For instance, Cavicchioli includes four chapters on archaeal envelope structure and function, whereas Garrett-Klenk has no particular chapter dealing with those topics. On the other hand, Garrett-Klenk includes a chapter on environmental archaea, a topic not really dealt with in the Cavicchioli volume. Both books have an introductory chapter by Woese, recounting from somewhat different angles the early days, and the implications of archaea for microbiology as a whole. Altogether both volumes provide good coverage of archaea; you can't go wrong with either.

One reason you can't go wrong with either volume is that about half of the articles in each volume were crafted by the same authors, albeit usually with different co-authors. In general, however, authors do a good job of not being overly repetitious beyond the necessary review. The result is that the two volumes together provide a more comprehensive perspective on archaea than either alone can do. Both hardback volumes are well presented and sturdy. The Blackwell volume seems a bit slicker than the ASM Press book and contains more color panels, but also costs more ($149.95 vs. $129.95) and you get 30% fewer pages. The well-heeled archaeal bibliophile will do well to have both.

Norman R. Pace, Boulder, 2007

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