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Reviews in plant cytogenetics.
MJ Puertas, T Naranjo. eds. 2008.
Basel, Switzerland: Karger. $99 (hardback). 214 pp.
This book represents a special issue of the journal Cytogenetic and Genome Research (vol. 120, no. 3–4) and encompasses a collection of 21 review papers on plant chromosome genetics grouped in six chapters. As outlined in the book's preface, the book is a conceptual follow-up to a former special issue that included 51 articles, of which some were reviews and some were original papers on the scientific objectives of plant cytogenetics. The restriction for all these new contributions to be review papers only represents an intention to provide a more general overview of the current knowledge of plant cytogenetics, of use for teachers, students and non-specialists in addition to researchers.
The first section (Chromosome Organization) is dedicated to basic aspects of chromosome and chromatin structure, and thus starts with a very general overview of plant chromosome structure from a historical perspective, through molecular organization and chromatin distribution along the chromosome, to the use of chromosomes as tools for mapping and understanding key features of the plant genome. The first paper somewhat sets the tone for all other papers in that the reader can appreciate that a good balance of context avoids too many details in the general description of structure and organization, but the text refers to a very carefully selected list of 138 references for deeper digging into the fine molecular details of plant chromosome anatomy and function. Three further papers complement the chapter and describe the chromosome ‘landmarks’ of the centromere, heterochromatin knob, NORs and telomere in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. They discuss the distribution blueprint of microsatellites along the somatic chromosomes of wheat, rye and barley as a tool for identification, and some aspects of potential importance for chromosome function. Pleasantly the chapters also give a comprehensive overview of the molecular cytogenetics of forest trees, a plant group often under-represented in similar books on the topic.
The second section (New Technologies) is dedicated to modern production and use of chromosome truncation in sensu lato. One paper describes the method of generating mini-chromosomes by telomere-mediated truncation of maize B-chromosomes and discusses future directions and applications for engineered mini-chromosomes, especially in maize. The second paper explains radiation hybrid and HAPPY mapping – methods still in the experimental phase in maize, wheat, cotton, barley and mouse-ear cress, yet opening new avenues for a broader repertoire of plant genetics and genomics techniques.
The third section (Special Chromosomes) comprises three papers on sex chromosomes and one paper on the genetically and physiologically enigmatic B-chromosomes. The section clearly gives insights into the structure and evolution of sex chromosomes and the genetic background of plant sex determination – one of the most interesting fields in plant cytogenetics. However, it was not obvious to this reader why the editors invited three out of four contributions in this section to be on the subject of sex chromosomes whilst not considering including reviews on plant polytene chromosomes and the intriguing holocentric or holokinetic chromosomes. Further, coverage of polycentric and ring chromosomes – excellent examples of special plant chromosomes – would have scientifically strengthened this section.
The fourth section (Meiosis) is dedicated to all structural and functional aspects of chromosome recognition, sorting, pairing and recombination, as well as the strategies of hunting for controlling genes in Arabidopsis spp., Brassica spp., maize, rice, and the cereals wheat, rye and barley. Six papers make this section the strongest one of the book. It comprehensively lists extracted control genes and the corresponding mutant phenotypes, and covers a wide range of hypotheses on mechanisms discriminating between homologs, homoeologs and heterologs and on recombination pathways, with extensive references.
The fifth section (Chromosome Evolution) is made up of two very extensive papers focusing on the significance of chromosome number and rearrangement dynamics for plant speciation. The authors discuss the importance of paleopolyploidy and neopolyploidy in the context of karyotype evolution and cytotaxonomy, and clarify terminology that different international authors have used in different ways. In addition, this section evaluates the evolutionary role of dysploid and aneuploid variation as well as Robertsonian-type exchanges and mobile rDNA clusters.
The sixth section (Cytogenetics and Plant Breeding) covers, in three papers, an explanation of chromosome doubling during androgenesis as result of endoreduplication, nuclear fusion, endomitosis and colchicine-mitosis, the cytogenetics of interspecific Festulolium hybrids based on genome identification and meiosis analysis using FISH and GISH assays, and the exploitation of cytogenetic tools for studies in the crop-to-wild gene transfer scenario. This last paper casts classic and modern cytogenetic methodology into the framework of plant breeding strategies in a very captivating way that delivers plenty of side-information on the interdisciplinary network that exists between chromosome genetics and molecular as well as physiological plant science.
Overall, the book is well structured and delightful to read, mainly due to a mature sense for the equilibrium between scientific detail and an appreciation of the bigger picture of general biology, all supplemented with a large selection of literature references. Its scientific strength lies in independent reflections on common questions surrounding the plant chromosome by different authors with obvious expertise in their special research fields. Very high quality pictures of cells and chromosomes and very good explanatory colour diagrams of genetic processes and systems result in a book that is technically flawlessly. Thus, this review collection acts as a distinguished compass to guide one through the many routes in the almost-overwhelming data sets currently being produced by classic and modern cytogenetic research. In summary, the book is a ‘must read’ that can touch the mind and heart of the novice and experienced chromosome biologist alike.