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What Is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biologyby Addy Pross
Synopses & Reviews
In his famous 1944 text "What is Life?" Erwin Schrödinger pointed out how strange living systems appeared to be when viewed from a strictly physical standpoint. All living systems are highly organized and the emergence of these organized systems would seem to contradict the most basic tenets of physics and chemistry, which say that systems tend toward chaos and disorder. What is even more remarkable is that despite dramatic developments in molecular biology in the half century since Schrödinger's remarks, we still don't understand what life is or how it relates to the inanimate world.
In addressing Schrodinger's classic question, renowned scientist Addy Pross offers a radically new approach to these fundamental questions of biology--what is life and how did it emerge. Pross examines these issues from a chemical perspective, providing a new understanding of how the sciences of chemistry and biology relate to one another. Pross shows that recent developments in a new area of chemistry called "systems chemistry" now allow researchers to outline the chemistry-biology connection, shedding light on how and why some prebiotic chemical systems are able to make the magical transformation from inanimate to animate. Through the application of these simple chemical concepts, this book reveals the essence of the animate-inanimate connection, explains the strange properties of living systems in chemical terms, and offers profound new insights into classical biological issues, such the mechanism and driving force for evolution and the origin of altruism.
Pross reveals that the emergence of life on earth and classical Darwinian theory are intimately related--that Darwinian theory is just the biological expression of a more general chemical principle, one that Darwin himself predicted would likely be uncovered in time.
Seventy years ago, Erwin Schrodinger posed a profound question: 'What is life, and how did it emerge from non-life?' This problem has puzzled biologists and physical scientists ever since.
Living things are hugely complex and have unique properties, such as self-maintenance and apparently purposeful behaviour which we do not see in inert matter. So how does chemistry give rise to biology? What could have led the first replicating molecules up such a path? Now, developments in the emerging field of 'systems chemistry' are unlocking the problem. Addy Pross shows how the different kind of stability that operates among replicating molecules results in a tendency for chemical systems to become more complex and acquire the properties of life. Strikingly, he demonstrates that Darwinian evolution is the biological expression of a deeper, well-defined chemical concept: the whole story from replicating molecules to complex life is one continuous process governed by an underlying physical principle. The gulf between biology and the physical sciences is finally becoming bridged.
About the Author
Addy Pross received a Ph.D in Organic Chemistry from Sydney University in 1970. He is currently a Professor of Chemistry at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and a recognized authority in the area of chemical reactivity to which he contributed with the highly cited and acclaimed Pross-Shaik model of chemical reactivity. He has held visiting positions in many universities word-wide, including the University of Lund, Stanford University, Rutgers University, University of California at Irvine, University of Padova, the Australian National University Canberra, and Sydney University. He has served on the editorial board of chemical and biological journals and a variety of academic management boards. In recent years he has directed his attention to the biological arena where he has applied his expertise in chemical reactivity to the Origin of Life problem and the broader question of the problematic chemistry-biology interface.
Table of Contents
1. What is Life? A historical perspective
2. Understanding life
3. Chemical stability and chemical reactivity
4. The origin of life problem
5. Toward a general theory of evolution
6. What is Life?
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