Bigging-up wood work

Secondary Xylem Biology: Origins, Functions, and Applications. Edited by Yoon Soo Kim, Ryo Funada and Adya Singh. Academic Press, 2016.

rev-Img_7447We don’t get that many books dealing specifically with secondary xylem [wood] biology, so Kim et al.’s Secondary Xylem Biology: Origins, Functions, and Applications [hereafter referred to as SXBiol] is a welcome addition to that genre.

But, with only 17 chapters in its 397 pages, coverage of the whole field of wood biology is not possible in SXBiol. Instead, we have an interesting mix of contributions that touch upon such important aspects as basic biology/development processes, preservation of wood and wood products, economic aspects of wood, and techniques to advance our understanding of the structure of secondary xylem. Contents of SXBiol are therefore ‘selective’, but do give a good overview of the current state of the art of wood science. Organised in four parts **, SXBiol ranges from fundamental considerations of the importance of the vascular cambium in the biology of the tree to detailed chapters on Flexure wood, and Reaction wood; from Bordered pit structure to Fungal, and Bacterial degradation of wood cell walls; is right up-to-date with Genetic modification of secondary xylem and Wood-based and bioinspired materials; and looks to the future in advocating further in-depth investigation of the cellular aspects of wood formation with contributions on Microscope techniques for studying wood structure to Distribution of cell wall components and use of TOF-SIMS [time-of-flight-secondary ion mass spectrometry].

Whilst SXBiol is as up-to-date as you’d expect (with a gratifyingly high proportion of references dated post-2000; I counted at least 340 of them), it also places present day contributions within a suitably reverent and appropriate historical context. Thus, contributors make due reference to such standard wood biology texts and articles as Jane (1956), Côté (1958), Barnett (1981), Zimmermann (1983), Timell (1986a, b, c), Catesson (1994), Larson (1994), and Savidge (1996). However, and given Part IV’s advanced techniques focus, I was a little surprised not to see mention of a turn-of-the-millennium attempt to provide an up-dated tome dealing specifically with techniques to study the process of wood formation (Chaffey, 2002a). Now, this reviewer is not claiming that tome is a classic text that stands alongside those other named worthies, but, in similar vein to SXBiol’s goals, it too sought to “bring together up-to-date information … on … applications … [that are] … scattered and fragmentary and not covered in a single volume” [SXBiol’s Preface p. xvii]. Therefore, one thought that relevant contributions from the ‘wood cook book’ (Campbell, 2002) might merit mention in appropriate chapters of SXBiol. For example, one might have expected citation of Chaffey (2002b) and Itoh (2002) in Geoffrey Daniel’s “Microscope Techniques for Understanding Wood Cell Structure and Biodegradation” chapter, or reference to Rensing (2002) and Šamaj and Boudet (2002) in Takabe and Kim’s “Rapid Freezing and Immunocytochemistry Provide New Information on Cell Wall Formation in Woody Plants” chapter.

And, as is always the case with books – whose journey from initial idea to realised publication often takes several years – Kim et al‘s tome is to some extent overtaken by subsequent, more recent publications. Thus, SXBiol can be usefully supplemented by such articles as Groover (2016), Rathgeber et al. (2016), and von Arx et al. (2016). But, that is not to undermine the value of SXBiol. Rather, it attests to the current – and continuing! – interest in studies of trees and wood formation in particular. SXBiol is therefore capitalizing upon that spirit of the times.

And, it is nice to have a book on secondary xylem that actually deals with trees, and doesn’t instead attempt to big-up the virtues of Zinnia tracheary elements (Demura, 2014) or Arabidopsis (Chaffey et al., 2002) as proxies for such investigations (although one should be mindful of the moves in that direction with work by Devillard and Walter (2014), and Davin et al. (2016), respectively **. SXBiol is therefore a book devoted to proper wood, from trees. Well, almost. Inclusion of Chapter 14: “Biological, Anatomical, and Chemical Characteristics of Bamboo” is hard to understand since bamboo doesn’t have a cambium and is therefore devoid of secondary xylem/wood. Although coverage of bamboo was justified by the Editors (p. xix of the book’s Preface), this section still sits oddly amongst the other legitimately ligneous contributions (interesting though it is!).


In summary

Kim et al. have done a good job of bringing together timely contributions from many of today’s major players in the field of wood biology. If Secondary Xylem Biology helps to inspire the next generation of ‘workers with wood’, it can count itself a success.


*  Part I: Development of secondary xylem, II: Function and pathogen resistance of secondary xylem, III: Economic applications of secondary xylem, and IV: Advanced techniques for studying secondary xylem.


** Recognising the value of experimental ‘systems’ to understanding the real process that takes place within trees, it is noteworthy that Funada’s chapter “Xylogenesis in trees: From cambial cell division to cell death” gives due mentions to work with gymnosperm and angiosperm tracheary elements (TEs) (and appropriately also cites his contribution to the Wood Cook Book – Funada (2002)).



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Campbell M, 2002. Recipes for wood. New Phytologist 156: 325–326.

Catesson A-M, 1994. Cambial Ultrastructure and Biochemistry: Changes in Relation to Vascular Tissue Differentiation and the Seasonal Cycle. International Journal of Plant Sciences 155: 251-261.

Chaffey NJ (ed.), 2002a. Wood formation in trees: Cell and molecular biology techniques. London, UK: Taylor and Francis.

Chaffey NJ, 2002b. Wood microscopical techniques. In: Wood formation in trees: Cell and molecular biology techniques, ed. Chaffey NJ, pp. 17-40. London, UK, Taylor and Francis.

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