Succinct, Short, and Sweet: Stewart Scherer's guide to the human genome

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Sandra Porter

I got my copy of "A short guide to the human genome" by Stewart Scherer today from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (2008, ISBN 978-087969791-4). Usually, I would wait until after I've read a book to write a review, but this book doesn't require that kind of study. As soon I skimmed through it and read some of the questions and answers, I knew this would be the kind of quick reference that I would like to have sitting above my desk.

Scherer has compiled a wonderful text that not only answers many of the kinds of questions that I can think to ask about the human genome, but the kinds of questions that I get from my students and other instructors. The whole book in fact consists of questions and answers.

Some examples are:

    How common are pseudogenes?
  • What is the amino acid composition of a typical protein?
  • Which proteins are post-translationally cleaved into multiple hormones and related peptides?
  • Which endogenous retroviral genomes are largely intact?
  • Which genes and alleles are associated with common genetic diseases?
  • How do mitochondrial genomes vary across species?
  • Which genes are located in the introns of other genes?

Well, you can imagine my excitement! I love that stuff and now I have something to read on my next airplane trip and I'm armed with a wealth of facts to spring on people in their vulnerable moments!

Although the book truly is short in length, 173 pages including the index, it's long on the kinds of answers that you'd like have at your fingertips. These kinds of analyses are not readily available from skimming the databases. I know from personal experience that gathering these kinds of data and compiling them so nicely in tables and readily accessible summaries takes time and effort. Clearly, Scherer has spent many hours doing the research to put this book together.

This is a book that I would find handy when seeking to answer a few questions, quickly, without spending hours at the task. For example, in chapter 4 on RNA, there's a question that says: "What are sequences at splice junctions?" I spent way too much time this past January trying to find information about consensus splice sites that went beyond the canonical 5'GT-AG 3' junction information. Scherer compiles the information about other types of sequences at junction sites and gives the statistics for the frequency of each kind. Where was this book in my hour of need?

As a researcher, I would want "A Short Guide to the Human Genome" for a quick reference. As an instructor, this text is going to serve as a really great source of questions to ask my students. I also think, since it mostly addresses the human genome, the questions inside suggest a wealth of potential student projects with genomes from other organisms.