This book provides the reader with a wide array of information from the world of virology. The author, Dr. Marilyn Roossinck, acknowledges that “the word ‘virus’ conjures up the terror of death on invisible wings. It raises images of hospital wards filled with patients dying,” but the text is quick to clarify that viruses are a part of Earth's history and that most viruses don't even cause disease. Roossinck, a professor of plant pathology, environmental microbiology, and biology at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State University, has a dossier that includes more than 60 papers for such publications as Nature and Microbiology Today. With the author's expertise and a narrow focus on the topic, one might think that a book devoted entirely to viruses would be aimed at those who need a highly detailed, technical guide to the more than 100 viruses that are profiled.
The Introduction provides an exceptional overview of viruses, with the information a reader needs to begin to understand the biology behind these conglomerations of nucleic acids and proteins. The Introduction – divided into 10 subsections that are concise, informative, and quite readable – would be a good resource in a classroom or reference library, for those needing information about viruses in general. It includes what viruses are, their history, viral controversies, classification, replication, packaging, transmission, immunity, and more, all accompanied by diagrams and/or photographs. Although some of the illustrations in the Introduction are a bit simplistic, this does not detract from the information given and may even help the reader better understand the concepts. The photographs of each virus certainly dispel the notion – which might be gathered from the less complex, computer-generated drawings in the Introduction – that viral structure is simple.
The classification scheme used is that of David Baltimore, which is based on how viruses make messenger RNA, from class I to class VII. Some brief background is given on the mechanisms involved in the synthesis of proteins. This information helps explain how each class of viruses is categorized, with an example of a virus in each class. Following this overview, a more detailed, step-by-step explanation is given for the replication of each class of viruses.
The remainder of the book is organized from the perspective of the hosts infected – humans, other animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. For each of the viruses, there is a photograph and two or three paragraphs of information, such as the history of the virus, symptoms, and the impact of the virus on its host. The brief text about each virus, although very informative, reads as an overview, which might be considered a weakness. Although these passages may not be rich in microscopic and molecular detail, their succinctness supports the overall readability of the text and provides one with a good basis for further research. An aspect I found very helpful is the list/heading given at the beginning of the section on each virus, which includes Group, Order, Family, Genus, Genome, Geography, Hosts, Associated Diseases, Transmission, and Vaccine.
A wide variety of viruses are explained, much more than the usual suspects covered in a biology class. Here is a snippet from the information on the Chikungunya virus: “Most people infected with the virus develop symptoms such as sudden-onset fever and debilitating joint pain that can last for months or years after the infection is cleared. It is this joint pain that gives the virus its name: in the Makonde language, Chikungunya means ‘to bend up.’ Other symptoms may include headaches, rash, eye inflammation, nausea, and vomiting.” The most current information about the Zika virus is also included.
This book is recommended for anyone looking for a good resource on viruses, whether for student use in researching up-to-date information, as a supplement to lessons, or as a good overall reference guide. The depth of information covered is suitable for middle grades and higher. One can gain an appreciation for the scope of information about known viruses, the diversity of viruses, and, especially, the potential numbers and types of viruses yet to be identified. In a classroom discussion on viral structure, one has to mention the vast array of shapes and sizes that are encompassed in this topic. The photographs of viruses provide valuable reinforcement of this. Roossinck has created an excellent resource with a wealth of information and gives the reader a glimpse of viruses of all types – both good and bad. Viruses have been an integral part of Earth's history and, without a doubt, will be an important part of Earth's future.
ELIZABETH COWLES teaches introductory biology, biochemistry, and entomology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She has taught at the undergraduate and graduate college levels for over 20 years. Her interests include insect toxicology, protein characterization, and astrobiology. Cowles holds degrees in biology and biochemistry from Cornell University and Michigan State University. Her address is Department of Biology, ECSU, 83 Windham St., Willimantic, CT 06226; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.