Faculty member celebrates 30th anniversary of his book

York director of academic affairs commemorates his book with 6th edition
White older male wearing glasses with six books displayed on his desk.

Robert Farrell's "RNA Methodologies" has been in circulation since 1993, with six editions and counting. His book has been utilized in several academic curriculums across the world, even having been translated into Mandarin Chinese following the release of the fourth edition. The translated version of his book is pictured on the center of the table. Farrell is the director of academic affairs and a professor of biology at Penn State York.

Credit: Brynn MacDonald

YORK, Pa. — “If we don’t stay current in our areas, it is a disservice to the students whom we serve,” Director of Academic Affairs Robert Farrell said when reflecting on the 30th anniversary and the newest edition of his book, “RNA Methodologies."

Farrell’s journey to publishing his own book was not one without time and effort. He first earned a bachelor of science in biology from Providence College, Rhode Island, and proceeded to earn both his master of science in cell biology degree and his doctorate in cell molecular biology at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. In 1992, just one year after having started at Penn State York as an adjunct professor, Elsevier Academic Press contacted Farrell to request that he write a book about ribonucleic acid (RNA), a messenger molecule in all living cells that carries instructions from DNA to proteins.

“The study of RNA was at the advent of molecular biology back then,” he said. “This was brand new science at the time, and I was both pleasantly surprised and honored to have been asked to write about it.”

The first edition of the book would then be published in early 1993. Intended as a laboratory user’s guide, “RNA Methodologies” reviews the biochemistry of a cell in the first chapter, and then explores what RNA does in the cell, what kinds of RNA are found, and what strategies can be used to take RNA out of cells and tissues to better understand its functions.

“One of the biggest parts of the book is trying to profile RNA and tie it to the behavior of the cell,” Farrell said. “Micro-RNAs were virtually unknown in 1992 and 1993, so this was pretty groundbreaking for its time.”

The book was a worldwide success and has since been updated five more times, with the sixth and newest edition having been released in November 2022. It has been heavily cited in scientific literature, and has been incorporated into both undergraduate and graduate curriculums at several universities.

Despite being around since the early 1990s, the book finds itself evolving but remaining relevant, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the new editions has a lot of information about RNA vaccines and RNA viruses in light of COVID-19,” Farrell said. “The pandemic cast a new light and focus on RNA not only as a part of a virus, but also as part of the solution to dealing with the virus itself.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of “RNA Methodologies,” but not the end of its time.

“It feels wonderful to have a book be in existence for so long, but it doesn’t end here,” Farrell said. “It is important to stay current in your field as much as you can. Technology is evolving so rapidly in the biology world, so there is a good chance for more discoveries awaiting us. Things I may not even be thinking about right now may be included in the next edition!”

As the book has grown and evolved, Farrell recognizes that it couldn’t have been possible without support from his colleagues across the Penn State York campus.

“Many of them have reviewed my writing and bounce ideas around for my books along the way,” he recalled. “I am so thankful for all of their help and encouragement.”