Life – As a Matter of Fat – The Emerging Science of Lipidomics
edited by Ole G. Mouritsen (Springer Frontiers
Collection), Springer, Berlin (Germany) 2005. Hardcover,
290 pages. Price 53.45 e. ISBN-13 978-
Presenting challenges and open problems at the forefront of modern physics in a manner accessible to scientifically literate non-specialists is the expressed aim of the Frontiers Collection by Springer. This is exactly what Mouritsen achieves with his book, the reader gains insight into the deeper implications and the fascinating questions involved.
The field of lipid research is central to essential aspects of life, e.g. its origin, its metabolic regulation, the brain, and decays in various forms. Traditional approaches to lipid research through physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine are complemented by nanotechnology, high throughput technologies, etc., and are now rapidly evolving into a multidisciplinary science, the lipidomics enterprise.
For lipids it is the third in a row of “omics”, after genomics and proteomics, that strives to put the “heap of stones into the shape of a house” (Pointcare).
As Mouritsen puts it: a new lipidomics science has to go beyond the mapping of all lipid species in all cell types and must approach cellular functioning from a more holistic perspective. The present state of affairs is still largely such that the answers are there, but what were are the questions? This book is a plea for hypothesis-driven science that has to follow the undoubtedly necessary efforts of stamp collection.
In that sense, the book is wonderfully exciting to read. It is structured into three parts: the first part (The Overlooked Molecules) describes in seven chapters the molecules, their chemistry and physics, and introduces the concept of larger shape creation through self-assembly. It ends by a six-page essay on “Models and Fashion”. As with all complex systems, models are important as nuclei for structured debate. With biological membranes, where the enormous breadth of scales in sizes (from Angstroms to millimeters) and in times (from picoseconds to days) exceeds normal imagination, this structuring power of models is of particular importance.
Mouritsen gives a lucid critique on the existing membrane models.
Remarkably, this chapter does not contain the fashionable “rafts”, which are found in almost every selfesteeming publication on membrane biophysics of today, but have not yet been seen in reality. No fear, however, rafts do appear in the following part.
The second part (Lipids Make Sense) is devoted to the structural and dynamic organization of lipids at the supramolecular level. It covers the “phase” aspect with all its associated phenomena, such as transitions, separations, fluctuations, also “rafts”, and interactions, arriving finally at the interaction with proteins. This part indeed covers a selection of relevant concepts and essential phenomena without getting into the maze of too many experimental results.
The third part focusses on function (Lipids in Action). Cholesterol makes the start, as it does in the history of lipid science. This is followed by a brief chapter on how lipids match up with proteins – the mattress model and hydrophobic mismatch concept, among others. Then the text shifts to nutritional aspects of essential fatty acids, and how a physicist can rationalize such diverse phenomena of life, as e.g. anesthesia, obesity, and apoptosis.
‘Smart nanotechnology’ stands at the end of this selection of examples.
A whole legion of scientific texts on membranes and lipids have appeared over the past five decades, starting with the classics of Dennis Chapman in the late Sixties, some more and some less memorable. This book of Mouritsen is different in being very readable, stimulating and concise.
Perhaps not unintentionally, its rather decent, unseeming layout – no glossy charts and pictures, no flashy highlights or boxes – supports its impression on the reader who wants to be seriously informed of current ideas and concepts, rather than be carried away with facts and figures. It will be an excellent companion for lipidologists, membranologists and lipidomiacs at all levels of expertise for time to come. It can be particularly recommended as a text for interdisciplinary university courses in life sciences.