The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms, and the Order of Life




Author: Franklin M. Harold
Type: eBook
Date Released: 2001
Format: pdf
Language: English
Page Count: 320
Isbn10 Code: 0195135121
Isbn13 Code: 9780195302349


Amazon.com Review "What is life?" asked physicist Edwin Schrödinger in an influential essay by that title published half a century ago. In this book, Franklin Harold ventures no definitive answers about what he calls "the supreme marvel of the universe." Instead, with wit and learning, he surveys the advances in scientific understanding about the nature of life since Schrödinger's time. Harold focuses closely on microorganisms, which, he observes, do not often figure in popular books of biology, perhaps because most general readers associate them only with disease and not with their many beneficial contributions to the world's workings. In fact, he suggests, the answer to Schrödinger's question is likely to be found at the microscopic level. Current evolutionary models derived from the study of ribosomal RNA from hundreds of species of plants and animals now point to the development of life from some cenancestor in a setting billions of years old, one in which "microorganisms rather than dinosaurs fill the horizon." The identity of that ancestor is not yet known, he writes; it may have resembled a bacterium, or it may have been a loosely organized assemblage of protocells "engaged in the promiscuous exchange of genetic information." No matter what it looked like, Harold notes in this instructive survey of modern biological theory, life probably originated in an apparently inhospitable environment, as studies of deep-ocean thermal vents and the lithosphere now point to, rather than in the oceanic "chemical stew" of old. It's a fascinating story, and Harold tells it ably. --Gregory McNamee From Nothing concentrates the mind like tackling the largest of questions (What is life?) within the smallest of settings (the cell). In achieving this concentration, Harold invites general readers to join him on the very frontier of biological research, there to ponder the multilayered dynamics of the animate world. Though technical enough to discourage the casual browser, this explication of the inner workings of a humble bacterium initiates readers in just enough science to permit a serious engagement with fundamental theoretical questions: Where, for instance, does a strictly genetic approach to life lead us astray? Or, why must we invoke autopoiesis--and not just natural selection--in explaining biological order? Nonspecialists will find themselves richly rewarded for a little patience in following the careful and lucid answers to these and other fundamental questions. For Harold has cleared a path deep into the perplexities now confronting biological theorists. And with rare candor, he acknowledges when those perplexities push us to the limit of science, leaving us to wonder and guess. A work of marvelous penetration and scope. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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