Michael Klymkowsky, University of Colorado
Melanie Cooper, Michigan State University
Pub Date: 2015
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Our professor has been instructing us as teaching assistants to really quiz the students on why they’re using specific reagents and why they’re performing certain techniques throughout each lab. Some students really have a hard time answering... read more
Our professor has been instructing us as teaching assistants to really quiz the students on why they’re using specific reagents and why they’re performing certain techniques throughout each lab. Some students really have a hard time answering these questions because they don’t have a solid base of molecular biology. Chapters 6-8 would be great tools for my students to read.
I saw no grammatical or informational errors throughout the textbook.
Many students need a variety of learning materials to really grasp a concept. A lot of my students have a hard time with how DNA is extracted, isolated, and further visualized. This textbook would be a wonderful aid in helping them better understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing certain steps in a lab. I thought that they had a better background of DNA and genetics, but they don’t know many of the basics that they should to really know what they’re doing in the lab.
This book read well for me, and I believe that the terminology would be clear enough for my students as well. I have freshman students all the way up to senior students, and I think that despite the age and maturity gap, this textbook was written very well for all intellectual levels.
It did not seem like there were different writing styles or any other inconsistencies present throughout the textbook.
This is the one section of the textbook that I believe could be improved. More often than not, I wish that the book had broken down the material into smaller sections.
This textbook in particular does a great job of laying out the various approaches to learning biology in the opening pages. I like how it breaks the textbook up into two parts. The first part focuses on the basics, the fundamentals of biology as the title says. The second part delves into more molecular biology and genetic technologies. Our labs throughout the semester follow the same pattern, we teach our students the basics of biology and then go more into the specifics of molecular biology.
Nothing throughout the textbook was confusing. I thought that the table of contents at the beginning was very clear and allowed for easy navigation.
There were no grammatical errors that I saw.
I did not feel like this textbook was culturally insensitive in any way.
As a teaching assistant for BIO2010 Lab, I chose Biofundamentals to review. I believe that this textbook could be a great asset for my students to accompany their current reading material in their lab manuals. Many of them have informed me that they do not even have a textbook for the lecture part of their course, and some of them are not even enrolled in the lecture part of the course. If we were to assign readings out of this textbook, their background knowledge of basic biology would be greatly enhanced.
The textbook covers the main concepts of an Introductory Biology course. The audience it's designed for is appropriate for the content covered. With that being said, it is not meant to be a book that covers every topic in great detail. I would not... read more
The textbook covers the main concepts of an Introductory Biology course. The audience it's designed for is appropriate for the content covered. With that being said, it is not meant to be a book that covers every topic in great detail. I would not use this book as a primary source for my course, I would use it as a supplement because the student is unable to glean all the content from just this one book. There is no index or glossary with this book.
The content is accurate, considering it is not exhaustive in its breadth. The authors do state that the molecular biology section is updated as new content is learned. There were a few typos, which is to be expected in an early edition of a new book - I assume these will disappear as more eyes review it.
This textbook encourages its readers to learn how to explain scientific concepts, to critically analyze data, and to argue scientifically. Core ideas are repeated through-out the book. It is timely in that it includes new findings (such as genomic sequence data) as they are published. Because it is published online, the ability to update the data in real time is an advantage to this type of book.
The verbiage is for a high end student, one who is accustomed to an expanded vocabulary. I imagine that this textbook would be more difficult for the average college reader.
Each chapter follows the same format in how it introduces the topic, gives detailed information, then concludes. There is also a section with questions to answer at the end of each chapter. The student will know what to expect in each chapter and will quickly become habituated with the sequence of information presentation.
I'm not convinced that each chapter is stand alone, each chapter seems to build on previous information in the book. This would make it more difficult to study any chapter out of order or to eliminate any one given section in a chapter.
The approach of this book is to begin with the origin of life, followed by evolution. As one reads the chapter, one is lead to identify facts and over-arching concepts. This follows a logical game plan with observation discussed first followed by response. There is a level of physics and chemistry background to this book; however, the terms are simplified so that the average reader without a strong physicochemical background can still learn from its text.
There are links to videos that make the transition from book to animation seamless; however, the figures in this book are few and without much detail. For the visual learner, this textbook has many drawbacks. The paucity of well drawn and adequately explained figures and images is a major drawback. Some of the figures found herein are small in size without much detail included.
There were few grammar errors that I noticed, but it was written above the level of an average college student.
Key observations were discussed with reference made to evolution and physicochemical properties. However, there were not a lot of examples used to explain these observations. I would like to see more real world applications made to the concepts so that they are more relevant to the outside world.
This textbook is suitable as a secondary source of information. I think it would accompany an active learning strategy in which the teacher uses it to encourage class discussion and deeper thinking/learning. However, to use it simply to gather the content necessary to lead a discussion is beyond the scope of this book.
The text is comprehensive in that it contains the general topics that are likely to be covered within one semester of an introductory biology course that includes molecular and cellular levels. The text broadly covers evolution, molecular basis... read more
The text is comprehensive in that it contains the general topics that are likely to be covered within one semester of an introductory biology course that includes molecular and cellular levels. The text broadly covers evolution, molecular basis for life, central dogma, and energy metabolism. As the authors describe in the introduction for the text, the book overall is purposefully written in a general manner. It lacks the details that many other introductory biology textbooks contain that all too often confuse students and steer them away from understanding the larger themes that unify the biological disciplines. Neither an index nor a glossary are provided with this text.
The text gives a fairly general overview of the concepts typically covered. Because many of the detailed concepts are kept out of the text, the accuracy of the book is high.
The text uses extensive hyperlinking to websites and other valuable resources that help to further describe or add context to the concepts. This introduces the fact though that inevitably these hyperlinks will need to be updated as time progresses. In that aspect, the textbook's longevity is limited. The authors do incorporate modern techniques (particularly in the chapters pertaining to genetic bioinformatics). Theoretically, these techniques may be phased out as technology increases over time.
The textbook's prose is comparable to most other textbooks written for the same level. As it's more generally written than other textbooks, Biofundamentals 2.0 doesn't contain a tremendous amount of jargon or technical terminology and only uses those terms when absolutely needed for clarity. Figures are often difficult to discern as captions are not provided and annotations are only sporadically used. Figures sometimes appear to be provided for more decorative reasons rather than to be truly informative. There are instances where a diagram or chart would be helpful to further explain the concepts that are being described in the text. Having said that, the word clouds at the beginning of every chapter are a good way for students to check their understanding of the overall concepts being presented in the text and to also help them structure any note-taking at the start.
The text follows a format of writing and organization that is repeated for every chapter. Once familiar initial, the text is easy to navigate as a result.
While the organization of the chapters as they currently are in this textbook lends itself to how students should use it, each chapter could still be used in isolation and the chapters could easily be used separately as needed. In addition, every page has between 1 and 2 subheadings so as to help the reading separate the information into smaller, digestible blocks.
The organization of the overarching concepts is somewhat different than the traditional introductory biology texts. The first four chapters cover evolution. I honestly like this approach as it sets a strong tone of evolution as the unifying theme that connects all of the various biological disciplines. The text then continues through the more traditional route of the molecular basis for life, energy metabolism, and then central dogma.
The book is fairly easy to navigate. Images appear as probably intended as they don’t appear to show any sort of distortion. Images and figures don’t have accompanying captions and tend to have little to no annotation. The reader must instead sort through the text itself to find the caption (as shown by a directional arrow). This decreases the effectiveness of the text being used as a quick reference guide when spot checking concepts.
Care seems to have been taken during the editing process as the text appears to be free of grammatical errors. There is a figure that appears to have been reversed as the annotation provided on it shows the mirror image instead.
Like other biology textbooks, this text also incorporates the already established pillars of the scientific field. They do a fairly good job of describing the context in which many of these scientists performed their research which allows for the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of science as a process. Overall, though, the focus of the book is less on who did the research and more on what research was actually performed and how those results have increased our understanding of the natural world and biological systems. And, as a result, the cultural relevance issue is somewhat avoided.
The text provides a preface that could be incredibly useful for students if used appropriately. The preface describes science as a way of interpreting the world around us and then details how biology specifically is different from other the other scientific disciplines of biology and chemistry. The authors then discuss their general teaching philosophy and how the organization and level of detail provided for the concepts are meant to support students as they are learning to understand the unifying themes in biology. All too often, textbook authors create material and expect that the know exactly how the text is intended to be interacted with and used. It seems that Klymkowsky and Cooper have considered the use of this textbook from a learner’s perspective.
The book titled Biofundamentals is designed to engage introductory biology students on the core concepts in biology. It begins with an emphasis on how to approach scientific thinking to an analysis of individual points of view and political and... read more
The book titled Biofundamentals is designed to engage introductory biology students on the core concepts in biology. It begins with an emphasis on how to approach scientific thinking to an analysis of individual points of view and political and social opinion. My opinion is that this book does a good job of presenting some of the typical subjects that would be covered in an introductory biology course in an extensive manner without going to the excessive detail that many traditional textbooks do. The first chapter includes a detailed discourse on scientific methods in a way that challenges common non-scientific ideas and subsequently weaves in genetic variation and evolution into an intricate discourse of thermodynamics and energetics. The story of the cell theory, DNA and genomes are then subsequently introduced in a way that connects it to the previous themes in the book further removing the topical divides that often give students a very segregated view of interwoven biological, chemical and physical principles. There is not much on cell structure and function clearly defined and organic molecules role in the cell which I consider to also be fundamental concepts. Much as comprehensiveness is desired, while considering the textbook, the authors' stated and implied objectives, imply the content will be compressed. However, it does have a lot more content in some areas than the implied title "fundamentals". I also think a strong glossary of terms should have been included in each chapter, because it is dense in terminology and concepts which tends to be overwhelming. Overall a good comprehensive text on the topics included.
The book is overall, quite accurate in its scientific content. This is further strengthened by including hyperlinks within the document to papers and reference material and even short videos and animations that give a simplified yet convincing support to the concepts covered in the book. It also offers the readers an opportunity to make the choice for further exploration or not. This could have been utilized extensively to condense the content by not including too much information which could overwhelm student readers. In addition, some of the authors opinions were kind of a more philosophical commentary that were premised on the authors point of view and should have been clearly stated as such. I particularly enjoyed the discussion on sexual selection since I teach and online course that includes this topic and found it was well written. The comment casually included stating sorry no plants(page 262) actually underscores many students resistance to learning about plants. My comment would be to actually include examples of all organisms and especially plants which students tend to discount as uninteresting. Since it is titled fundamentals of biology, this should include all living organisms as case studies when appropriate as was done with bacteria and other model organisms.
The book is relevant and does an excellent job of linking the past to the present/future. Including interesting aspects of science and society also makes this book applicable to current issues such as genetics of race, inheritance of traits, selection and the ideas of social evolution and the abuse of some of this principles in historical times. A discourse on the original purpose of gene editing CRISPER CAS 9 system is also a good way to tie into something currently in heavy use in research and now in biomedical interventions in disease. The extensive discourse of some historical discoveries could be greatly condensed or hyperlinked to give readers the option of further reading if needed. I do not think the book will be obsolete and it is implied to have a continued editing intent which would be a plus for this e-format.
The book is well written and while it has adequate content, my thoughts are that this can be further edited to minimize the detail. The book's stated goal is to present key concepts which is supported in the content choice however, the detail can tend to be excessive for the desired approach. In terms of clarity, the content is well delivered. Some of the questions for discussion might be a little challenging and sometimes ambiguous for the "novice" student who is not an expert in the field. Again, including an index of words or preferably hyperlink to a glossary within the text would be a great complement to the current structure. Finally, some of the end of chapter 'questions to answer' cannot be easily answered by just going through the text content without guidance. Also, the 'questions to ponder' seem designed for higher order thinking skills, so including links to a hint in the text or external resource would be nice. This way, students can accurately approach these without it being to open ended and hard to tackle.
The book is consistent in terminology and framework. The authors intent to link the historical was clearly seen in every chapter and in some more than others, the link to the traits and behaviors are also considered. Some chapters are still being edited as was mentioned, but the text is in a very good workable edition as it is. The evidence based approach to learning science was also visible in some chapters that described the classical experiments and what we can apply from those currently.
In terms of being modular, I do like the section headings and organization of the book. This should allow instructors to extract a portion of interest to assign or include as a guided discussion. In some ways, the content order may need to be modified just like every other textbook in the market. The instructors' thought processes or flow may not be aligned to the authors. This could then be realigned and the book seems relatively flexible to do so. For example in the evolution modules in earlier chapters, alleles and even linkage were mentioned and discussed before genetics topic defined those terms, which came much later after a detour to energy and systems. I would say good enough to reorder as one chooses with some limitations.
The topical content of the text is well developed and has a logical thought flow. The authors followed the theme of historic/evolutionary to population genetics. Although, it really extends the social and philosophical aspects of science with the analysis. It does a good job of delineating the selected topics but some concepts are fundamental to biology and yet excluded (which might be saved for the other part of the sequence that is yet to be published). The paragraphs are sometimes long and dense in terms of content. I would utilize the idea of they hyperlinks that is included to expand ideas rather than too much detail included in the text. A good example of this is on page 270 where links extend the idea being discussed on Caulobacter with a link to "want to learn more"? There are a few other examples of this but I really think more could be done to condense while not loosing key ideas.
No navigation issues or display problems with the pdf file. Images seem to be hand sketched or computer drawn for the most part which adds a personal touch to the content. This is a deviation from the overly complicated and detailed imagery in most commercial biology textbooks which often overwhelms students. I think in many ways this is more of something students could relate with, although some of the images could do with a little more annotation. I also felt some content could have been minimized in favor of the image doing "most" of the explaining since many individuals are visual learners. Since it is a pdf file, one could zoom in to see an image magnified if required even though they were small. An 'image bank' file would be a good complement for people to develop presentation slides if they choose to. Many figures do not have a legend! If it is designed to model the nature of science, this is not a good example of how scientists present figures. The legend is an essential part of scientific figures and should be incorporated in all images. The links I clicked on seemed to work and directed me to the appropriate page, although I did not click on all of them It would have been nice to have the links take you to a different tab or at least return to the page you were on before the link. it took me back to the first page instead. Overall good interface.
The grammar was okay. I did not notice major issue just minor typos interspersed in the text which have minimal errors, This implies some first round editing was done even though it indicated to still be work in progress with editions still being made.
There are not sufficient human images used in the book to assess this carefully but should be considered as it is being developed. The examples are neutral enough and many other model organisms were emphasized not just humans. Confronting the "wrong usage of science" in past society such as eugenics was well addressed but using the word BS on page 11 I don't think is a good idea for the issue of cultural relevance. Also, the discounting language used in controversial evolutionary topics could be toned down so as not to turn off a reader whose interest we would like to keep long enough to engage them in the scientific thought process. The discourse on variation of skin color and relation to vitamin D and climate is a broadly used example, however, a suggestion would be a link to HHMI bio interactive resource on the genetics of skin color which would be a good complement. Another comment is that because of the historical details included, which highlight the single "big name' scientists like Newton, Darwin etc,, there should probably be a more robust mention of how science is ultimately very collaborative. This should include an emphasis on the need for diverse points of view in that group. Students who are struggling with their sense of identity as "scientists" often validate this insecurity when such images are portrayed and they do not feel like a genius. Besides, this the examples seem okay.
The book is well written and aligns well with its stated goals of presenting some fundamental ideas of biology while incorporating the often unclear bridges to physics and chemistry(the influence a a chemist as a co-author is clearly seen and a great complement to the text). The personal approach to the dialogue is also a great touch where authors interjected by expressing as a thought or question, a common contradictory idea that a reader might have, and then clarifying it. I personally find this text too comprehensive in its detail in light of what was stated as the goals. While the authors are probably trying to ensure that a lot a breath is covered, to meet implicit content demands, it could easily overwhelm the reader which is counter productive. Some chapters contain lot of details that are actually beyond fundamentals since they include detailed descriptions and analyses of the scientific content. This would essentially bring it back to the same product as commercially published science texts, if attention is not given to the mission of the book. There is clearly an audience interested in that format which deals with the essentials for an introductory biology course. This information overload is more evident in the historical presentations as well as some of other subtopics. The unique features for this book, includes the authors approach to discussing the scientific method in an applicable way and also the discourse on the influence of genetics on social systems (among others) which were nicely presented. Overall, I would recommend this book for use as part of an introductory biology sequence and I am satisfied with the content.
The text is intended for use as a two-semester introductory biology sequence. The authors address the nature of science and three main theories in biology – physicochemical basis of life, cell theory, and evolution. (Although not directly noted... read more
The text is intended for use as a two-semester introductory biology sequence. The authors address the nature of science and three main theories in biology – physicochemical basis of life, cell theory, and evolution. (Although not directly noted in the authors’ statement, it also addresses the central dogma of genetics.) This focus on comprehensive explanatory theories makes the text scientifically elegant. This text also evidences an ongoing trend in introductory biology sequences in which the area of biology probably most relevant to human sustainability in the 21st century – ecology – falls by the wayside to be picked up later, sometimes only by that subset of biology majors focusing on organismal and/or environmental themes. The authors are honest about the lack of full coverage and note on the title page that the current version of the text is a draft. Based on its current length, the full textbook could probably be used in a one-semester introductory course on molecular and evolutionary themes in biology. I found the authors’ advocacy for scientific elegance compelling, especially the decision to recognize the theoretical coherence of biology on the same terms that researchers have constructed it. The discussion of the nature of science is more comprehensive than I have seen in other texts at the introductory level. Where evolution intersects with ecology content, the latter is addressed to some extent, but it is never granted its own domain. For example, underlying genetic and evolutionary mechanisms for the generation and maintenance of biodiversity are presented, but the role of environment in biodiversity and how biodiversity is measured are not addressed. By contrast, the details of ecological topics such as population growth have been omitted, in favor of topics that may be more relevant to upper level courses (e.g., behavioral biology, quorum sensing, systems biology). Overall, I see this text as most useful for introductory courses in specialized biology majors that explicitly exclude ecology. For faculty who prefer a text that more adequately represents ecology as a subfield of biology, I would suggest one using a “core themes” approach, such as Campbell Biology or Integrating Concepts in Biology.
The content accuracy varies. This is a problem for an introductory-level textbook, since students at this level are the most likely to take authors’ words at face value. As an extreme example, the authors claim that panspermia “assumes that advanced aliens brought (or left) life on Earth” in Chapter 2. A quick Wikipedia check reveals this to be an unnecessarily limited and distorted presentation of the topic. The underlying idea that panspermia does not directly address the question of biogenesis is clearly correct, but the misrepresentation of the idea of panspermia and the fact that the authors weight that portion of the topic more heavily in terms of word count risks introducing a misconception and/or derailing the underlying point. For a more subtle example, the discussion of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium does not seem to fully recognize the relationship between the equation and neutral theory, instead emphasizing the fact that the underlying assumptions of the equation are, in practice, never really met. By contrast, more foundational concepts in cell and molecular biology, such as membrane function or the relationships among genes, alleles, and mutations, are addressed accurately.
The authors are taking on the challenge of “teaching in the midst of a scientific revolution,” presenting an array of conventional topics in introductory biology through an alternative organization: more deeply integrating genetics with evolution, and including topics that now have enough evidence to support a textbook treatment (e.g., genome dynamics, origins of multicellularity). The current draft does not have longevity simply because it is, as stated by the authors on the title page, a draft. However, it is already evident that a final draft of the text has strong potential for helping to further the ongoing conversation about how to teach to the paradigm in process as a result of the genomic revolution. That later draft is likely to have good longevity. The text uses extensive footnotes, many of which refer to internet-based articles and resources; to improve the text’s longevity, it may be helpful to use permanent object identifiers or print references as alternatives to direct URLs.
The prose is generally conversational, but technical, in tone, and the authors’ use of humor prevents the text from becoming too dry. I imagine that some of my previous students would need to put in extra reading time to fully grasp some of the denser technical sections, as many novices must put in effort to develop their understanding of terminology at the introductory level. Well-prepared students are more likely to be able to succeed with this text. One other feature that would aid the clarity of this text greatly is to develop computer-generated images with captions and to increase the size of most figures. The hand-drawn figures present in several sections can be difficult to read, and many other figures are too small to easily interpret. Especially in discussions of phylogenetic trees, additional figures to show (rather than only tell) how to interpret such diagrams would be beneficial. “Tree thinking” is known to be a challenge area for student understanding, and providing multiple modes of instruction may help students grasp the topic more easily.
The text is generally consistent, although the organization of the text produces some redundancy (see more in “Organization/Structure/Flow”). As previously mentioned, the formatting of images varies in terms of size, quality, and captioning. The formatting of footnotes also shows some variation. The text might benefit from supplying an index and set of works referenced at the end, which could allow for a more consistent and comprehensive approach to citing items in the footnotes.
The table of contents call out each chapter as well as two levels of subheadings in all of the longer chapters. Individual chapters allow for easy reorganization of course content. As described in Organization/Structure/Flow, some instructors may wish to rearrange the text to place the chapters on evolution after those on genetics. The subheadings allow for useful break-points to divide a topic across multiple days or weeks. Furthermore, many subsections are concluded with a brief set of “Questions to Answer” and “Questions to Ponder.” This provides useful out-of-class activities to help students take a “review break” from their reading while more actively building their understanding.
The organization of introductory biology topics in a comprehensive format is a challenging task for any author. Biology as a field tends to resist neat conceptualizations by scale hierarchies or a process orientation, as other features disrupt these conceptualizations (e.g., evolution in scale hierarchies, systematics in process orientation). The “nature of science” introductory chapter is a common approach for many introductory textbooks and works quite well here. The text proceeds with three chapters related to cell theory, biogenesis, and evolution, which together create a coherent unit. Chapters 5-8 form a second coherent unit, moving from introductory biochemistry through membranes, energy metabolism, and the central dogma of genetics. This presentation is essentially in the reverse order from many other texts, and this leads to a disjointed feel in some parts of the first “unit” as the authors work to provide the underlying genetic context for evolutionary processes (e.g., genes, alleles, types of mutations), and as the organismal focus of Chapter 4 shifts abruptly to the molecular scale in Chapter 5. For comparison, The Tangled Bank (Zimmer 2009) also recently explored new ways of “leading with evolution” in an introductory level textbook. While Zimmer's text has a more coherent organization overall, it appeared to be designed for a one semester course and excluded many common introductory biochemistry and cellular biology topics presented in the present text. Chapters 10-14 all have potential relevance in an introductory level course, especially Chapter 11, which addresses cellular level processes in meiosis and sexual reproduction. At this time, these last four chapters have a “work in progress” feel and will likely be more complete in a later draft.
In the PDF format, many of the images and diagrams seem to be tightly worked into the text in order to save space. Most do not have any title or explanatory text. It would likely be helpful to give more space to the images and diagrams that are most important to demonstrating core principles, and to give them clear titles and/or headings to help students understand their intended purpose. Images and diagrams that act more as examples could be treated more incidentally.
Errors in spelling and grammar regularly arise throughout the text. In some cases these errors are severe enough to interfere with the reader’s understanding, particularly if the reader is also an English language learner. Since the authors state that this is a draft in progress, this is to be expected. A careful review by a professional science editor would be helpful once the final draft is ready for review.
The introductory heading “A Biofundamentalist Approach” is one that needs clarifying and/or tempering. While someone passingly familiar with scientism is able to interpret the intended meaning, it would likely be unclear to a novice whether that phrasing is intended to advocate for, speak out against, or merely highlight the “biofundamentalist” approach. The authors’ approach of addressing scientism alongside pseudoscience is one I believe to be a best practice in discussing the nature of science. Clarity is needed when this is done, since scientism typically receives less attention and some science educators may be unfamiliar with the concept. Due to its similarity to sectarian descriptions such as “Christian fundamentalist,” the use of the term “biofundamentalist” could also potentially raise negative prejudices from those who are highly religious as well as those who are highly atheist. The description of trans-scientific issues provides a brief but well-balanced discussion of the complex issues related to gender autonomy, human population growth, and industrialization. The use of the phrase “female autonomy” instead of “women’s autonomy” in this discussion may be offensive to some audiences. In the discussion of species, the mention of “populations, races, and subspecies” shows up in a few places, but little context is provided to distinguish among these. The authors have an important opportunity to distinguish between the use of “race” as a biological term and “race” as a social construction, and this could be achieved either in this section or in the unfinished chapter on human genetics. See the 2015 article by B.M. Donovan in Science Education for more on the need to address this challenge.
This was a difficult text to review, as it has been made publicly available while in draft form. Most of the numerical scores I have given here are influenced by the fact that the draft is incomplete and unpolished. I look forward to seeing the final version of this text in the future!
This ten-chapter, 220-page, pdf textbook covers many topics that are usually found in a general biology textbook. These include scientific thinking, life’s diversity and origins, evolution, reactions, membranes and energy, heredity, proteins,... read more
This ten-chapter, 220-page, pdf textbook covers many topics that are usually found in a general biology textbook. These include scientific thinking, life’s diversity and origins, evolution, reactions, membranes and energy, heredity, proteins, genes, and social systems. Using the Table of Contents and the Acrobat Find tool, topics such as cell cycle, phases of mitosis and meiosis, cellular signaling, and epigenetics were not found. The book starts with a three-page Table of Contents, but there is not an index nor glossary at the end of the book. Although the textbook has some diagrams and figures to help illustrate concepts, more visuals of experiments and biological structures and processes would be helpful. I noticed one figure citation, but the source of the others figures is unclear. The Preface notes the use of footnotes so students can delve into topics in more detail, and web links are often provided (some with brief descriptions and some without); adding additional links to help students understand and/or visualize key concepts would be helpful. Within each chapter are thought-provoking “Questions to answer and ponder.” There are many terms in the textbook, and it would be helpful if these were highlighted within the text and/or placed into another feature (e.g., list at the start or end of a chapter). The Preface also notes that there are foundational observations that apply to biological systems, and the material is often presented with explanations of experiments that helped to understand the concepts. This is helpful to show students that our knowledge was developed through experimentation, however, students may get overwhelmed by the details and miss the main concepts.
The chapters I read seem to have accurate information. Many of the footnote links are to Wikipedia pages which are not always accurate. I noticed one footnote that stated “video with lost of misspelled words;” finding another video or resource could help decrease student confusion. The material is presented in the textbook with scientific objectivity.
This book mainly includes historical experiments and well-accepted concepts in biology, so this information will likely not need to be updated. There are many web links in the footnotes and some within the text, and these often need to be updated.
This book has very high cognitive load. There are many long paragraphs, and the main point of each may not be clear to students. The text is packed with many scientific terms, and some are not defined until later sentences or paragraphs. Some of the scientific and non-scientific terminology is very advanced for an introductory textbook and would likely be more appropriate for an upper-level or graduate-level textbook. There are many non-scientific words that are not part of the daily vocabulary of students in an introductory course, and this would present a particular challenge to English-language learners. Some definitions are unclear; for example, cytologists are defined as “students of the cell.” Students at this level would need more help differentiating main concepts and key ideas from supporting details.
Based on the Table of Contents, and chapter sections and subsections appear to be consistent. The presentation of the material between chapters also seems to be consistent. Which terms and the way terms are defined within the text is not always consistent. For example, some terms are defined on first use, and others are defined later. Chapter one has the term stochastic in parentheses after random in one paragraph and after noisy in the next then refers to stochastic events, behaviors, and processes; this may confuse students unfamiliar with this term. In a later chapter, when noting that X-rays caused mutations, X-rays are defined but not mutations.
Although each chapter is broken down with subheadings, it may be difficult to assign parts of a chapter or only some chapters or to rearrange the order of the material. For example, historical experiments are presented in a timed sequence. The book is uses a lot of terminology that is not usually re-defined in later chapters. For example, chapter 7 on heredity uses terms such as chromosome, eukaryote, mutation, enzymes, catalysis, hydrophobic, monomer, hypomorphic, etc. To improve the modularly, terms would need to be redefined or easily accessible (e.g., a glossary or supplement).
This book is like many others where concepts are built upon one another, and the chapters have a logical sequence of topics. Since the text includes many terms and concepts, students may focus on these and have trouble discerning the main points. This could be improved with clear section introductions and conclusions and features such as lists of key concepts or main ideas.
I did not have any problems opening the pdf in browsers or downloading it. Reading it in Acrobat provided easier navigation. Since there were not titles or chapter numbers on each page, it was often difficult to know where I was within the text. The Preface refers to being able to read the text through the nota bene system, however, it was unclear how to access this. It also refers to beSocrative activities and provides a link, however, a login and password were required for access. The figures were small, and the text was difficult to read and sometimes fuzzy. Word clouds were often used, and the smaller words could not be read even after zooming. There were no figure numbers which would make it difficult to direct students to certain figures or separate them from the text. The figures could be improved by providing legends, especially for students without a lot of experience with graphs and scientific figures.
I did not notice any major grammatical errors. There were a few small typos in the text, for example “eon” instead of “one, missing spaces between words or sentences, or extra periods. These were easy for me to identify as simple typos, but they may create an additional challenge, especially for English-language learners (e.g., a student might think “andin” or “allelecan” are words they have not yet learned).
Chapter 1 uses ableist language by referring to a scientist as “mad” and includes an image and also does not replace the description or image with something more realistic. In the next paragraph, it is stated that intelligent design creationism is “extremely unlikely to be true” and “can be safely ignored” which might “turn off” students who hold these beliefs. One figure includes the word “bullshit” which might be offensive to some students, and the humor may not be understood by students who do not use this term as part of their culture. To present how biological concepts were understood, the textbook often names researchers and describes their experiments, and all of the examples I read were white men (there is also a link to a video about Watson and Crick, however, there is controversy about his and Crick’s interactions with Rosalind Franklin, and James Watson has made racist remarks.) There is an opportunity to use examples that can engage students and connect to their lives. For example, chapter 1 uses historical physics experiments to demonstrate the importance of the scientific process; using more recent, newsworthy, biological experiments with which students are familiar would help to engage them while teaching them some biological concepts. Using examples that are relevant to the populations of students we serve could also be helpful to engage students and connect their learning (for example, sickle-cell anemia as an example of a genetic disease linked to malaria, rather than skin color as many students believe). Chapter 7 uses lactose intolerance as an example, and there is an opportunity to discuss the co-evolution of genes and culture in Africa and Europe.
The book starts by focusing on scientific thinking and then the authors use descriptions of experiments throughout the book to demonstrate how concepts were worked out. The remainder of the text covers many general biology topics in a fairly typical manner. However, there are fewer pedagogical features (e.g., glossary, outcomes, summaries) than most traditional textbooks. I was not able to access the beSocratic activities so cannot comment on the supplements to the text. The Preface notes that students spend too much time learning vocabulary and use terms such as analyze, identify critical factors, make predictions, dissect critical factors, and the “Questions to think and ponder” test these skills, but the material is not presented in a way to help students develop these important skills. This book accurately presents the content, and instructors could supplement it to help students develop learning strategies to critically think about the material.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1. Understanding science & thinking scientifically
- Chapter 2: Life's diversity and origins
- Chapter 3: Evolutionary mechanisms and the diversity of life
- Chapter4. Social evolution and sexual selection
- Chapter5. Molecular interactions, thermodynamics & reaction coupling
- Chapter6. Membrane boundaries and capturing energy
- Chapter7. The molecular nature of heredity
- Chapter8. Peptide bonds, polypeptides and proteins
- Chapter9. Genomes, genes, and regulatory networks
- Chapter10. Social systems
About the Book
Our goal is to present the key observations andunifying concepts upon which modern biology isbased; it is not a survey of all biology! Onceunderstood, these foundational observations andconcepts should enable you to approach any biologicalprocess, from disease to kindness, from a scientificperspective.
To understand biological systems we need toconsider them from two complementary perspectives;how they came to be (the historic, that is, evolutionary) and how their structures, traits, and behaviors areproduced (the mechanistic, that is, the physicochemical).
About the Contributors
Michael W. Klymkowsky, PhD is a biology professor at University of Colorado. Over the past few decades, his interests have evolved from membrane-enveloped bacterial viruses, through acetylcholine receptor structure and synaptic assembly, to the organization and function of the cytoskeleton, specifically intermediate filaments and the role of adhesion proteins in the regulation of gene expression.
Melanie M. Cooper is a professor in the Chemistry department at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI