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Book Review: Embryology at a Glance

3 September 2012
Appeared in BioNews 671

Embryology at a Glance

By Dr Samuel Webster and Dr Rhiannon de Wreede

Published by Wiley-Blackwell

ISBN-10: 0470654538, ISBN-13: 978-0470654538

Buy this book from Amazon UK

'Embryology at a Glance' by Dr Samuel Webster and Dr Rhiannon de Wreede

Most of us, at one point in our lives, have wondered, 'where did I come from?' The answer we receive differs from one perspective to another. A mother of young children may describe the joyous tale of the stork. People of faith may point towards divine intervention. Physicists may speak of the wonders of the Big Bang. Biologists, however, would most likely recount the complex and intriguing journey of embryology.

'Embryology at a Glance' by Samuel Webster and Rhiannon de Wreede is aimed at medical students as well as those who are interested in medicine, health and bioscience. It provides an introduction to the key concepts in embryology - the study of the formation and development of an embryo into a fetus.

The authors cover a surprisingly large amount of information in this 120-page volume, taking the subject from the very basics of cell replication to the incredible complexity of the development of organ systems. A unique facet of this concise book, compared to others in the field, is that it delves into the clinical relevance of the various stages of development. Exploring more than just the biology of the normal, Webster and de Wreede write about the implications on the growing embryo of lacking certain nutrients and exposure to teratogens, chemicals that adversely affect the development of an embryo (for example alcohol, tobacco and thalidomide). The treatments for developmental abnormalities are also discussed.

The anatomy and physiology of neonatal medicine is addressed, and moreover the reader is encouraged to form connections between the various factors that negatively affect fetal development and the congenital anomalies found in newborns. This makes the book well-suited for medical students who not only need to know the facts, but also understand how to apply them and link them to other pieces of information in the puzzle of human biology.

Being a prospective medical student and someone who is fascinated by human biology, I find that reading literature around medicine is essential in my quest for knowledge. Publications on intricate concepts, such as embryology, however, are often very difficult to digest and filled with the inevitable medical jargon that paradoxically impedes learning.

'Embryology at a Glance' serves to give a fresh approach on this subject, in order to provide an overview and to demystify embryology. It is very easy to read, explaining specialist vocabulary succinctly, and is perfectly suited for those new to the topic as it presents the reader with the basic skeleton onto which finer details can be developed.

Currently studying A Level Biology, I have already learnt some of the basic concepts in embryology such as cell replication and differentiation. The book not only builds on these foundations but goes much further, extending, as it says, 'beyond the curricula of most medicine, health and bioscience teaching programmes'.

The format of the book is very similar to A Level Biology textbooks, in that it contains numerous diagrams and illustrations accompanying the text. It even includes a glossary, an index and a test section in the last pages filled with EMQs (Extended Matching Questions) and MCQs (Multiple Choice Questions), which are often used in medical education.

The book however does lack discussion on molecular embryology and genetics, and does not delve deeply into modern embryology research in cell signalling or stem cell research. Despite this, I would recommend this book to medical students and those interested in learning the basics of embryology. The authors definitely spark an interest in its readers and implant an embryo of curiosity into one of the most intricate branches of biology.

Buy Embryology at a Glance from Amazon UK.

12 December 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
As a biomedical research scientist recently returned to university to retrain as a medic, I am very much the target audience for the re-issued academic textbook 'The Reproductive System at a Glance', which provides a succinct guide to all facets of human reproduction...
1 August 2011 - by Dr Amy Strange 
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8 February 2010 - by Ata Anane 
The media is filled with coverage of genes and genetics, ranging from new clinical developments to genetic advancements. But few biology textbooks/booklets offer a way of simplifying the topic to pupils. This is one of the advantages of this introductory book...
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