by Dan Burke, Dean Dawson and Tim Stearns Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (2000) 205 pages. ISBN 0-87969-588-9 $75
Budding yeast has become a widely used model organism since the early days following its establishment as a workable genetic system in a small number of laboratories. Over the past 30 years, the number of laboratories turning to yeast as the means to apply powerful genetic approaches to dissect complex problems in cell biology has burgeoned, and the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Yeast Genetics Course developed in order to preach the methodology of yeast genetics to the scientific community. The latest reincarnation of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Methods in Yeast Genetics is, like its predecessors, a useful mix of experimental protocols for the budding yeast geneticist and details of the 11 experiments that constituted the latest course. With its colourful cover (demonstrating the viability staining kit of a well-known molecular biology company) and its revised, more professional-looking appearance, it provides a compendium of essential methods for those making forays into the world of Saccharomyces cerevisiae genetics. A useful introduction and a section on genetic nomenclature is followed by descriptions of the 11 experiments, then a section with detailed, step-by-step protocols, and finally a series of appendices with recipes for standard media and other information.
The 11 experiments cover the majority of practical approaches that form the repertoire of the yeast geneticist and provide a framework around which researchers can tailor these procedures to their own situations. For newcomers to yeast, they include a lot of the basic practical detail that would never be found in the materials and methods section of a paper. Although billed as a genetics manual, the book's remit is actually somewhat wider, covering a number of basic yeast cell biology approaches such as immunofluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Its organisation, with the step-by-step protocols for the basic techniques used in the experiments presented as a separate reference section, is good. For each experiment, the experimental details themselves are supplemented by a useful introductory section, which provides essential background explanation. The inclusion throughout the book of useful hints and tips will be particularly helpful to beginners. If the book has a shortcoming, it is that, by being essentially the instruction manual for a short, intensive practical course, it glosses over some of the finer points of the methods, details that a researcher would normally need to consider. For example, the chapter on synthetic lethal screening omits discussion of the additional steps needed to screen out false positives, to validate the synthetic lethal mutations or to clone the corresponding genes. In addition, while the protocols are generally well explained, some of the experiments assume that the reader can readily work out the purpose of each step. For example, while the chapter on meiotic mapping contains a great introduction that clearly explains the relevant theory, the basis underlying the analysis of the meiotic progeny in the actual experiment, as presented, is really quite obscure. To be useful to a complete yeast novice, a bit more explanation of such points would be helpful, as would more illustrations, details of the suppliers of specialist items such as `froggers' and tetrad dissection equipment (who really wants to make their own needles anyway?), and perhaps a binding more conducive for use at the bench. The book does not set out to be an exhaustive reference volume on everything to do with yeast genetics, but is a straightforward guide to approaching the core repertoire of contemporary genetic methodologies, showing how each can be applied in a suitable context. Given that we are in the post-genomics era, there is surprisingly little mention of genomic approaches such as DNA arrays, but these will no doubt be included in subsequent versions as they appear in the course itself. Nonetheless, the book is a very useful work, which brings together a lot of basic information and protocols and which no lab working on yeast should be without. It provides a good starting point for the novice and a useful reference for the more experienced.
As confessed by the authors in their preface, the 2000 edition of this useful manual owes much to the previous version; so need owners of the 1997 edition go for the upgrade? Apart from relatively minor improvements to the presentation, the only major changes to the experiments themselves are the dropping of the section on cytoduction and karyogamy in favour of the more topical chapter on synthetic lethal screening, together with a revamping of the chapter on insertional mutagenesis with mTn3 transposons. However, there are more significant changes in the techniques section, with ten additional sections including details on chromatin immunoprecipitation, flow cytometry and cell synchrony, and additional, helpful comments on techniques such as tetrad dissection. Some of these new protocols are not actually used in any of the 11 experiments but are, nonetheless, valuable additions that greatly improve the 2000 version. If you use your existing edition largely as a recipe book for media and basic reagents, then you may be disappointed with the new version. If, like me, you have found that the 1997 version is already falling apart through constant use, then you may just lament the lack of a spiral binding and go for the new one anyway. However, as an introduction to the practicalities of yeast genetic approaches, the improved presentation, improved content and additional protocols do make the 2000 version a useful addition to the shelf of any budding yeast researcher, and a valuable resource for new lab members.