A Genetic Switch: Gene Control and Phage A. Mark Ptashne. Cell Press, Cambridge, MA, and Blackwell Scientific, Palo Alto, CA, 1986. 138 pp., illus. $16.95 PB.

A small, easily digestible new textbook, A Genetic Switch, is destined to become an essential primer for novices in molecular biology and a rewarding recapitulation for old hands.

The book builds from the basic relationship between promoters, operators and repressors that is at the heart of the decision between bacteriophage lambda's two lifestyles, lysis and lysogeny.

The account expands to include a brief discussion of other regulatory mechanisms that govern the expression of lambda's genome. It then goes on to extrapolate from these mechanisms to possible developmental decisions made in eukaryotic cells. Lambda, as we lambdologists always suspected, could be the genetic homunculus in all "higher" life forms.

Ptashne begins by presenting the current model of gene expression that he and his colleagues have...

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