Zebrafish are easy and inexpensive to maintain, their embryos are transparent, and their genetics tractable. Thus, they have become a powerful model with which to investigate an enormous variety of problems in biology and medicine. As an example of their increasing popularity, over the past decade the number of zebrafish papers listed on PubMed has increased by over tenfold. With increased popularity comes increased diversity in the organ systems and cell biological processes under study. Until now, to obtain a comprehensive view of zebrafish biology the only sources were: the scientific literature,which is vast and not easily traversed without expert guidance; The Zebrafish Book, which needs updating; and the Company of Biologists Zebrafish CD ROM, which is permanently stuck in 1996.
Fortunately, there is hope in the form of a new book, Pattern Formation in Zebrafish, which goes a long way towards helping the uninitiated to understand why zebrafish have made such great strides. The editor, Lilianna Solnica-Krezel, was instrumental in the identification of many of the mutations described in the book. She has enlisted some of the top names in the zebrafish community to contribute their perspectives on zebrafish development. Although the book largely focuses on the control of early development, it also features discussions on the development of several key organ systems.
There is something here for everyone. For the embryologist, the first half of the book is a real treat, giving up the secrets of the molecular events underlying axis specification, germ layer identity and gastrulation movements. Each chapter provides explanation in clear accessible terminology with the salient points reiterated by the various authors, so that the reader will remember what one-eyed pinhead is (for example), what it does, and why that name is appropriate and helpful. For the neurobiologist, the relative simplicity of neurogenesis, tract and commissure formation, and neural crest diversification makes it easier to understand the homologous events in higher vertebrates. For the cardiovascular aficionado, mysteries such as the complex morphogenetic movements underlying heart formation, the physiology of heartbeat and the specification of venous versus arterial fates all become more understandable. There is much more and all of it is good. In general, the reduction of complex processes to the molecular detail make for exciting reading.
I found three aspects of the book lacking, however. First, I feel the price is far too high. This is likely to limit sales of what is otherwise an excellent book. Graduate students, who would benefit most from the book, will probably find it unaffordable. Second, there are some notable absences in the book. The recent genetic work on ear development in zebrafish has uncovered new aspects of the mechanical basis of hair-cell function but it is not discussed at all. My personal favourite embryonic structure, the notochord, is essential for vertebrate development but is only mentioned in passing and then only in the context of other systems. Finally, I found the index to be incomplete and thus not very useful. There are many examples of gene or mutant names where only a few of the citations are listed in the index. These minor criticisms aside, I think the book is extremely helpful and expect most zebrafish laboratories will want to have a copy close at hand.
Pattern Formation in Zebrafish
Edited by Lilianna Solnica-Krezel
Springer-Verlag (2002) 438 pages