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Chapter 6: Molecular and Cellular Biology

Chapter 6: Molecular and Cellular Biology


Molecular biology is defined as “The study of the structure and function of large molecules associated with living organisms, in particular proteins and the nucleic acids DNA and RNA” (Oxford Dictionary of Biology, 4th ed., 2000), while cellular biology is the study of cells, “the structural and functional unit of most living organisms” (Oxford Dictionary of Biology, 4th ed., 2000). 

Molecular biology is among the most rapidly growing fields within biology with recent success stories such as the sequencing of the entire human genome (reported in Science and Nature). Molecular biology is unusual in that the major information source for molecular biologists is not journal articles, but public databases such as GenBank, PDB, and DDBJ (annotated below in the database section). This is one reason why there are relatively fewer handbooks and treatises for molecular biology than there are for other biological subjects.

There is a natural affinity between this chapter and the ones discussing reference materials for biochemistry (Chapter 5) and genetics (Chapter 7). Given this very substantial overlap, it is essential to review the sources annotated in these chapters for a more complete understanding of the literature of molecular biology.

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Molecular biology information is available extensively on the Web.  Many of the databases discussed here provide access to gene or protein sequences.  Each time a researcher sequences a gene or protein, he or she is expected not only to publish the sequence in a research journal, but also to submit the sequence to a sequence database.  Sometimes journals will not accept articles until the sequences have appeared in a database, which is one of the few cases in which journals will accept data previously published elsewhere. The annual Nucleic Acids Research Database Issue is the best source for information on the major databases (currently volume 42, issue D1 or at http://nar.oxfordjournals.org/content/42/D1.toc).  The associated 2013 Molecular Biology Database (http://www.oxfordjournals.org/nar/database/a/) lists 1,512 databases, and there are many others as well.

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Guides to the Literature

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Methods and Techniques

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Textbooks and Treatises

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