Book Review: The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology

Often, Sci gets books, and even though she’s totally excited about them, has to move them to the bottom of the pile, in a vain effort to go through things in the order she receives them, and try to stay on top of it all (there’s a pile of books next to Sci’s bed a good two feet tall. Really). But when I got this one…it moved right to the front. I mean, how could it NOT!?
The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology by Masaharu Takemura.
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The book is basically a very light review of introductory concepts in molecular biology. Two girls, who are failing their molecular biology course because they skipped all the classes, are sent to the professor’s private island and given a virtual reality tour of molecular biology as their make-up class (hey, it’s Manga, Reality doesn’t come close to belonging here). The book covered the main concepts that you would cover in an introduction to molecular biology, parts of the cell, replication, transcription, translation, enzymes, mitosis, meiosis, at times showing the big concepts and then simplifying them and making them easier to understand. Being a comic book, everything was drawn. Characters were enthusiastic and cute (really cute, one of them actually says “zowie”), and in the end are inspired to become doctors to help learn more about molecular biology.
I have to say I love the format concept, using manga (or cartoons in general) as a way to explain complicated ideas. It’s fun, accessible, and a great way to introduce hefty concepts like molecular biology, because you can DRAW everything! This also makes it a good book for someone in, say, middle school, who’s showing an interest in biology and wants to learn a little more, but needs a bit of an introduction. I did find a couple of the concepts were introduced, but not really explained, and sometimes words were given and not identified. So it might be good to have a more in-depth source on hand if you’re very new to the material.
I would have liked to see some Kreb’s cycle, but I can understand that it might have been too complicated. But I do think that the book could use some more clarity on the clear differences between DNA, RNA, and protein. Protein in particular got short shrift, with not much on how the structure is formed or how amino acids link to each other. Also, while DNA and RNA got substantial coverage for their work, I think protein needed a bit more. I mean, it IS what most of the acting parts in the cell are made of. In addition, phospholipids weren’t very well described (no definitely of hydrophobic or hyrdophilic, though the words were included), and their role in holding the entire cell separate from the outside environment really should receive some wow-factor.
Overall, though, it was a fun and entertaining journey through elementary molecular biology, with lots of cartoons, and even some explanations of modern day science that is making waves, like knockout animals, stem cell research, and gene therapy. Adding these ideas in really brings home the importance of science in our everyday lives and how science is working to improve the lives of people, as well as just finding out how things work. As I read the book and came across concepts that didn’t get a lot of attention, I felt the desire to learn more, and to explore on my own, which is something any introductory book should try to accomplish.
But I do have one bone to pick. All that awesome molecular bio with transcription and enzymes and knockout mice, and the characters want to become doctors?! DOCTORS?! No no, my dears. Some doctors do research, but what you really want to be is a SCIENTIST!!! I’m just going to go ahead and say something must have been lost in the Japanese to English translation there. Scientists, of course!
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10 Responses

  1. ZOWIE!

  2. It occurs to me that Pee Zed covered something similar a while back, didn’t he? Only not on molecular biology. My Google searches just turn up a ton of weird comments from the Pharynguloids so I don’t know if I’m imagining things or what.
    Anyway, maybe this might actually teach me a thing or two so most of your blog posts don’t go sailing clear over my head. 😀

  3. Sci misses the use of “zowie” in the common English language. Join with me, becca! Together, we can BRING IT BACK!!!
    Jason: oh noes! Knowing my stuff goes over your head makes me very ashamed. I will try to write more background next time. 😦

  4. It’s not your fault at all. I try to be a polymath… in some fields I do better than others. I am decidedly less good with squishy topics like biology than I am at logic or computers. Your humour does a good job of smoothing over most of the bumps, but whatever I miss out on, is my fault, not yours.

  5. maybe they mean phd doctors?🙂
    i prefer to teach by drawing on a whiteboard/chalkboard rather than by words alone. pictures are so helpful in explaining so many concepts.

  6. I remember reading a Cartoon History of the Universe when I was a kid – it was like the best thing ever and totally what I base my entire knowledge of the big bang, dinosaurs, and human evolution on. Totally.

  7. But Jason, I want to convey SCIENCE (mushy, Biology science!) to everyone, whether or not they choose to have a background in my subject. Thus, more ‘splainin may be necessary.
    Captain Skellett: OMG. I own ALL the Cartoon History of the Universe books!! I LOVE THEM!!! It’s where I got all the good stories in history, like that empress of China who ran off with a lover disguised as a eunuch! Awesome!

  8. You know, it would probably behoove me to ask questions when I’m lost instead of just lurking all the time. I’ll make an effort to do so more often.
    I’m going to have to find these Cartoon History books — among my first memories, is a DC Superhero Dictionary when I was four-ish. I’m a big kid at heart. And who knows, if there are sprogs in my future, I could pass them down!

  9. Thanks, Sci: you just prompted me to go look for the ‘Biochemist’s Songbook’ – one of my own favourite multimedia aids from undergrad – and it’s now in .mp3 form, free, online! Squee🙂.

  10. Jason, you might be thinking of “The Physics of Superheroes” book by James Kakalios (who is a prof in Minnesota, and I think PZ blogged about that book once or twice)

  11. I googled up Gonick and realized I hadn’t seen all of his (besides the histories, I remember the Cartoon guide to Genetics/Statistics/Physics/Chemistry and the Computer, but not the environment or sex or (non)communication… must get those).
    Pee Zed linked to the book, but didn’t review it or anything.
    If sci writes a cartoony neuro book I would read it. Heck, I would proclaim ZOWIE! from the rooftops and get everyone I know to read it, indeed I would.

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