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Book Review: RiMG v. 64

Medical Mineralogy and Geochemistry

Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Volume 64
Nita Sahai and Martin A.A. Schoonen, editors

I have thought for years that we (i.e., mineralogist and geochemists) should be spending more of our time looking inward into the human body to better understand the processes that are in operation there, as compared to our efforts to understand the physical systems on the earth. In reality, the knowledge we have gained by studying the latter can be directly applied to the former. Now, I believe, is the time to do such and this book provides a glimpse into how we can work to transfer our well-honed skills, which have developed over the years of study directed toward understanding earth processes, to understanding human processes.

The book is a collection of ten chapters; a brief introductory chapter, three that provide excellent general overviews of differing aspects of medical mineralogy and geochemistry, with the remaining six focusing on more specific issues. The three-overview chapters, in general, discuss: toxicology of earth materials (Plumlee et al.), the role of metal speciation in bioavailability (Reeder et al.), and formation of reactive oxygen species (Schoonen et al.). Also, each of these three chapters provides specific examples as well as some much-needed definitions of the terms used in these areas, which can be somewhat overwhelming to the geologist first starting work in these areas. I won’t spend any time discussing these chapters, except to restate they are very well done and will provide a much-needed background information in their specific areas for years to come.

While the content of the above-mentioned chapters seems somewhat obvious, the other six chapters are slightly less so, at least based solely on their titles. Perl and Moalem discuss the connection between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease. Like many of you, I had heard mention of this in the popular media, but the facts as they present them are far different from what the limited knowledge I had before reading this chapter. The next chapter deals with prion diseases and their residence in soils. Just in case you don’t know now what prion diseases are – think mad cow and chronic wasting diseases. To me these chapters were the farthest afield from my background, and I found them fascinating; and I think every geoscientist would also find them worth reading. It was so interesting to learn some of the science behind what is discussed in the popular media.

The next chapter by Huang et al. deals with a subject close to my research; coal workers pneumoconiosis, as well as my childhood. In my home area in the Midwest we called this disease “black lung” and it was caused from working in the pre-regulated coal mines. One very interesting aspect of this article deals with the relationship of the differing minerals present in the coal dust and how their presence or absences affects the disease.

The last three chapters all deal more directly with the “connections” between the inorganic and organic world. The first in this group is my Glimcher and discusses the structure of bone. The chapter gives an excellent overview of our current understanding of bone and the methods used to determine them. The next chapter by Cerruti and Sahai discusses bone and dental implants; and (pun intended) really is the connection between inorganic and organic materials.The last chapter by Livage and Coradin discusses living cells and oxides glasses. Again an incredibly interesting chapter that directly shows how what we have learned in the physical world can be applied to improving our human health.

In summary, often the purpose of a book review is help individuals decide if they wish to purchase the book being reviewed. However, in the case of this volume, as well as all past, and hopefully future, RIM and RiMG volumes, the cost is so low that anyone with even a slight interest in the subject area should purchase the volume. Also, and this volume is no exception, volume 64 continues the high quality of this series. As usual, all the chapters contain a wealth of references that all researchers interested in this area will find very useful.

Mickey E. Gunter
Geological Sciences

University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho USA
mgunter@uidaho.edu