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Ann Bot. 2009 June; 103(8): viii.
PMCID: PMC2685313

The plant cytoskeleton: a key tool for agro-biotechnology

Reviewed by Nigel Chaffey

The plant cytoskeleton: a key tool for agro-biotechnology.

YB Blume,  WV Baird,  AI Yemets,  D Breviario. eds.  2009. 
Berlin, Heidelberg, New York:  Springer.  €192.55 (hardback).  457 pp 

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In the final decades of the 20th Century, major multi-expert contributions to our knowledge of the plant cytoskeleton appeared approximately once every 10 years (Lloyd, 1982, 1991) and principally concentrated on the microtubular component. The 21st Century has seen an increase in the frequency and diversity of these contributions, so that we now have a plethora of botanical cytoskeleton collections: Staiger et al. (2000), Nick (2000), Hussey (2004), Nick (2008), and the latest addition, Blume et al.'s The plant cytoskeleton: a key tool for agro-biotechnology (abbreviated hereafter to TPC). This book is the Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on The Plant Cytoskeleton: Genomic and Bioinformatic Tools for Biotechnology and Agriculture, held at Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine, 19–23 September 2006.

TPC's 21 chapters cover major plant cytoskeletal components – intermediate filaments, tubulins, actins, myosins, MAPs and kinesins, although with a tubulin/microtubule bias (13 chapters) – and are distributed amongst its seven parts: (1) cytoskeleton fundamentals (chapters on γ-tubulins and intermediate filaments only – such a reduced list of cytoskeletal components that the term ‘fundamentals’ seems difficult to justify); (2) cytoskeleton and development (featuring one of the book's most useful reviews on microtubules and root cell elongation, and an article on Chara antheridial spermatogenesis, whose agro-biotechnological relevance remains unexplained); (3) cytoskeleton and signalling (two articles on mechano/gravisensing and a third on tubulin phosphorylation and the cell cycle); (4) genomics of the cytoskeleton (a misleading title as all the chapters are devoted to tubulin); (5) cytoskeleton proteomics (also misleading as both chapters deal with microtubules/β-tubulin); (6) structural biology and bioinformatics for cytoskeleton research (tubulin, MAP, and kinesin contributions); and (7) applied biology/biotechnology (finally! the last sentence of Yemets et al.'s ‘Tubulin genes as selectable markers’ contains the only explicit reference to agro-biotechnology I could find throughout the chapters).

Items are a mix of largely literature-based reviews and research papers (e.g. Jin and Hasenstein's Chara spermatogeneis, Okamura et al.'s MALDI-TOF MS study of β-tubulin, and Griffin and Wick's array technology for studying maize tubulin), which makes for an unevenness of coverage. At a mere two-and-a-half pages the Index seems inadequate and the illustrations are not always of sufficient quality (although it is not clear whether this is due to the publication's production values or the images themselves).

The above reservations notwithstanding, I have further concerns about TPC. The conference was held in autumn 2006, but the book was not published until early 2009, which does not seem timely enough. Much research will have been published in the intervening two years to make TPC immediately dated if not actually out-of-date. In addition, the book's ‘agro-biotechnological’ angle is misleading; it is stated in the Preface, but not integrated into the individual contributions. While the importance of the cytoskeleton to the ever-increasing number of fundamental plant biology aspects is undoubted, the publisher's site informs us that TPC is ‘a comprehensive review of applications in biotechnology and agriculture’, which it really isn't. To some extent TPC ‘focuses on problems relevant to understanding the structural and functional organisation of the plant cytoskeleton at the single cell and whole plant levels’, but there is little evidence of the contents ‘including the possibility of directly utilizing these functions for practical purposes in agriculture, food safety and health’ and readers who expect the book to deliver on that topic will be disappointed. If TPC had more of an agro-biotechnological aspect, it would be in direct competition with Nick (2000). Although the latter concentrates on microtubules, several of its contributions do make explicit the connections between cytoskeleton and biotechnological potential. If TPC had also done this it could have been a timely and useful update on the topic after the intervening 6 or 8 years, extending it beyond Nick's (2000) microtubular bias. A missed opportunity I think.

Taken altogether, I feel that The plant cytoskeleton: a key tool for agro-biotechnology is a mixture of ‘too little’ and ‘too late’. Should readers still be keen to own their own copy, the Springer site offers a much cheaper soft-cover version.

LITERATURE CITED

  • Hussey PJ, editor. The plant cytoskeleton in cell differentiation and development. Vol. 10. Oxford, Boca Raton: Blackwell Publishing, CRC Press; 2004. Annual Plant Reviews.
  • Lloyd CW, editor. The cytoskeleton in plant growth and development. London: Academic Press; 1982.
  • Lloyd CW, editor. The cytoskeletal basis of plant growth and form. London: Academic Press; 1991.
  • Nick P, editor. Plant microtubules: potential for biotechnology. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer; 2000.
  • Nick P, editor. Plant microtubules: development and flexibility. 2nd edn. Vol. 11. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer; 2008. Plant Cell Monographs.
  • Staiger CJ, Baluška F, Volkmann D, Barlow PW, editors. Actin: a dynamic framework for multiple plant cell functions. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer; 2000.

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