Tuesday, February 15, 2011

email to a textbook rep

Dear textbook rep,

I haven't received the brand-new textbook yet (author's name and title redacted), but today I did get the Instructor's Media CD for it, and I've been through all the sets of slides.  I'm afraid it's not at all what we're looking for.

Because the title promises a genomics approach, I was hoping for a text that presented the basic principles of genetics in the context of our new spectacular information about human and other genomes.  Instead it's yet another old-fashioned Genetic Analysis textbook, with no modern genomics at all! 

The first chapter covers molecular biology at a high-school senior/Intro Bio level, and is followed by the standard four chapters teaching classical genetics (Mendel and single-gene inheritance, mitosis and meiosis, linkage and mapping, chromosome structure and behaviour.  All the same material that's been taught since the 1960s, with the odd snippet about gene function, such as the molecular defect in Mendel's wrinkled pea allele.  Then a series of more molecular chapters (DNA replication, bacteria and their viruses, gene expression, gene regulation), all still very classical in the information they present.

Chapter 10 claims to be about genomics.  But what does it contain?  The same old molecular cloning and genetic engineering methods, supplemented with explanations about how microarrays work and how a germ-line transformation is done.  The only genomics is the genome of the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, published 15 years ago!  No human examples at all, just flies and fish and rice.

Then more standard chapters with the standard material present in every other textbook: development, mutation and DNA repair, cell cycles and cancer, classical population genetics, classical quantitative genetics.

Students taking an introductory genetics course don't need to learn how to clone genes, they don't need to know what Mendel did, and they certainly don't need to understand how a Southern blot is done.  Even professional geneticists never do Southern blots any more!

More than anything students need to understand their own genomes.  They need to know how inheritance works, and how genes affect phenotypes.  They need to understand natural genetic variation, in their own and other species.  These concepts aren't particularly difficult, except maybe when they're embedded in the baggage of classical genetic analysis.

I'm quite disappointed, as I was hoping that this would finally be a textbook we could use.  But I guess I'll continue to make do without any assigned textbook.

I'm attaching a copy of the lecture schedule for this course, just in case you know of any other textbook that might take a more modern approach.


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