Ron Milo, Rob Phillips, illustrated by Nigel Orme: Cell Biology by the Numbers. Garland Science 2016


This is the book we - or at least I - have been missing for decades. If we agree that physiology is first and foremost a quantitative science then back-of-the-envelope calculations are the best means to get a feeling for the cell census and the dynamics within a cell. The book is divided into five chapters: Size and Geometry; Concentrations and Absolute Numbers; Energies and Forces; Rates and Durations; Information and Errors. Each chapter contains "Estimates" which are step by step calculations for key numbers. A few examples: How much headspace is required to supply oxygen for growth? How many proteins are in a cell? What is the fractional change in occupancy of a receptor in a concentration gradient? How many protons are needed to build up membrane voltage? What is the fraction of of membrane taken up by transporters? What is the turnover time of metabolites and proteins? And many more ... In general, three cell types are treated in comparison: the bacterial cell, the yeast cell, and the animal cell (note: filamentous fungi are missing!). I myself have successfully tried a further estimate: to calculate the specific growth rate from the rate of amino acid connections by ribosomes ...

The book is avaliable in the Internet (see link) and is intimately connected with the database "BioNumbers - The Database of Useful Biological Numbers" (

Wolfgang Burgstaller