John Mann reviews this chemistry text

Natural product chemistry at a glance
Stephen P. Stanforth
Oxford: Blackwell 2006 | Pp152 | £17.99 | ISBN 1 405 14562 5
Reviewed by John Mann

Natural product chemistry at a glance book cover

Natural products (ie secondary metabolites) contributed hugely to the improved quality and longevity of life in the 20th century through their use as antibiotics and anticancer drugs, and as models for the design of synthetic drugs. The chemistry of their synthesis and biosynthesis has thus been studied for at least the past 80 years and this book focuses on the mechanisms by which the various natural product skeletons are made.  

About half of the book is devoted to the fatty acids and polyketides. The coverage includes the basic chemistry of these pathways and the more recent unravelling of the effects of genetic manipulation within polyketide synthase gene modules to provide 'unnatural products'. Both the old and the newly discovered routes to the terpenes and steroids are described, and all of the major mechanistic pathways to the various classes of alkaloids are detailed. One omission, however, is a discussion of the fascinating and well delineated biosynthesis of shikimic acid. Throughout the book there are problems to solve and detailed solutions are also provided. 

The undergraduate student who wants to know the mechanistic chemistry of biosynthesis is well served by this book. However, the problem with 'at a glance' type of books is that they focus on one aspect of a subject primarily because they judge students can only assimilate so much knowledge at one time. This is a huge problem for a subject like natural products because this class of compounds attracted Man's interest principally because of their fascinating biological and pharmacological properties, which are barely mentioned in this book. To describe the biosynthesis of morphine, lysergic acid, cholesterol or erythromycin without discussing their biological effects gives the reader a distorted view of natural product chemistry.