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What is Life?: How chemistry becomes biology [Kindle Edition]

Addy Pross
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A stimulating and thought-provoking read, [which] provides a sound chemical framework for considering the various theories and strands of research directed towards understanding the ultimate question - what is life? Chemistry World I don't pretend to understand the chemistry - but by using analogies about boulders rolling down hills, and cars driving up them, Pross does a good job of explaining the principle. Brandon Robshaw, Independent on Sunday Review from previous edition Addy Pross's growing sense of excitement is palpable in this lucid, thoughtful, and accessible exploration of the very foundations of that most exquisite and extraordinary property of matter, life. Peter Atkins Strikingly, [Pross] demonstrates that Darwinian evolution is the biological expression of a deeper and more fundamental chemical principle: the whole story from replicating molecules to complex life is one continuous coherent chemical process governed by a simple definable principle. GrrlScientist blog A thoughtful and readable manifesto Pross gets high marks for his effort to demystify genesis and put chemistry in its place. Franklin M. Harold, Microbe, Volume 8 Number 3 A lively, intellectually stimulating examination of profound scientific and philosophic questions. It provides an intriguing and possibly plausible way to think about life and its origins. It provides much food for constructive thought. Chemical and Engineering News A fascinating and insightful read. It has utility and enjoyment value to readers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Definitely food for thought. Niles Lehman, Trends in Evolutionary Biology By formulating a new stability kind in nature, Addy Pross has uncovered the chemical roots of Darwinian theory, thereby opening a novel route connecting biology to chemistry and physics. This book is more than worth readingit stirs the readers mind and paves the way toward the birth of further outstanding ideas. Ada Yonath, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry [ What is Life?] is a stimulating and thought-provoking read, and provides a sound chemical framework for considering the various theories and strands of research directed towards understanding the ultimate question - what is life? Chemistry World


Seventy years ago, Erwin Schrödinger posed a simple, yet profound, question: 'What is life?'. How could the very existence of such extraordinary chemical systems be understood? This problem has puzzled biologists and physical scientists both before, and 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? Did life begin with replicating molecules, and, if so, 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 entities results in a tendency for certain 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 and more fundamental chemical principle: the whole story from replicating molecules to
complex life is one continuous coherent chemical process governed by a simple definable principle. The gulf between biology and the physical sciences is finally becoming bridged.


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4.0 von 5 Sternen Viel Hypothesen, wenig Beweise 15. Oktober 2012
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Die Frage nach den Ursprüngen des Lebens beschäftigt die Biologie schon seit langer Zeit. Viele Theorien wurden entwickelt, alle sind bisher gescheitert. Addy Pross beschreibt neue Ansätze zu Lösung dieser Frage. Er versucht zu zeigen dass zwischen Biologie und Chemie kein grundlegender Unterschied besteht, wenn es um Fragen der Evolution geht.
Leider ist das Buch sehr allgemein gehalten und es wird sehr wenig auf konkrete Forschungsergebnisse eingegangen. Die neuen Forschungsansätze kann man gut verstehen, vor allem wenn man sich mit dem Thema schon einmal beschäftigt hat, aber am Ende bleibt die Frage, und nun? Etwas mehr hätte es schon seien können. Deshalb nur 4 Punkte.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Life's chemistry 6. April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
Let me suggest to you to read this book immediately. It is short. It is interesting. It is witty. It is convincing. It is (at least for a layperson) innovative. So what is missing? A bit more details. Perhaps in Appendix space should be given to the nitty gritty of chemical states fundamental to the presented theory fundaments. As published the book reads more as a stimulus. Readers interested in details and principles have to take it on their own. Is there any standard literature on the dynamic chemistry? Likely there is, but not cited. Yet, admittedly it is rather difficult to write for readers from all walks of life and states of science education. Nevetheless, sub summation of Darwin's premises to chemistry is fascinating story. Clearly, the reader would benefit from learning more about the science behind the argument. As likely all students of natural sciences are able to understand Jacques Monod's Chance and necesssity (including the loose ends) it highly unlikely that they will be able to follow the ones in this book prima facie presented.
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.1 von 5 Sternen  37 Rezensionen
27 von 29 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Life is part of systems chemistry 17. Februar 2013
Von Jaume Puigbo Vila - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
This book tries to answer three related questions: What is life? How did it emerge? How can we make it? They are related because, for instance, if we knew what is life we could conjecture how it emerged and if we were able to create it we should then understand it. It was Feynman who said that he could only understand things when he was able to create them.

Of the three questions, the most difficult to answer it is how life emerged on Earth. It is difficult because the oldest fossil evidence is 3,600 million years old, but life could have appeared on Earth between 200 and 400 milions before that and, although there are some proposals about the environment where it appeared, there is nothing certain. This subject is so difficult that reputed scientists have proposed to solve it saying that life came from space. Naturally that only puts the problem somewhere else: where and how did life emerge in some other planet.

Since we are not yet ready to create life in the lab, the author of the book concentrates in trying to answer what is life. The answer is that life is part of a special chemistry that we have been able to perform in the lab experiment after experiment in the last 40 years: it is replicative chemistry. There are several experiments that are explained and that mainly consist in RNA replicating itself, mutating and evolving in a way that the fast replicator is the one that wins. Complexification is also part of the story. When two selected RNA molecules are put together they replicate more times and more quickly than just one of then due to cross catalysis.

In a simulation, if a replicating molecule is able to capture energy by means of, for instance, a primitive photosynthesis, this molecule will outperform even a faster replicator because it can build copies out of inactive ingredients that can be activated by energy. Thus, the author believes that replication was helped by metabolism.

Normal chemistry follows the second law of thermodynamics. Substances, like hydrogen and oxygen, react because the result, water in this case, is more stable. Replicative chemistry follows another law: dynamic kynetic stability. To understand it the author uses a metaphor: a river is normally stable, but the water that flows is not the same. In the same way, the cells in our body, for instance, are constantly renovated, but we persist. Naturally to escape the second law you need energy.

Well, I hope that these "snippets" of the book entice the potential reader to buy the book. The book is not long and can be read in a few days and anybody with a minimum science education will be able to follow the arguments.
21 von 25 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen Some nice ideas, but much too long, too hand-wavy, and too repetitive 8. Dezember 2013
Von Russ Abbott - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Addy Pross is so enthusiastic about systems chemistry that I feel mean giving his book a relatively negative review. The primary problem I have with the book is that it's extremely repetitive.

Basically Pross says that there is a new field called "systems chemistry." Systems chemistry studies chemical replicators, chemical molecules (and networks of molecules) that are capable of copying themselves in an environment that has the right sorts of components. (Actually systems chemistry is somewhat more than that.) Replication is important because one can then look at populations of replicating chemicals in the same way that we look at biological populations, i.e., the best replicators win. Of course there can be environmental niches, etc., but that's the main point.

Pross thinks this is important because it integrates biology and pre-biological chemistry: they are both about replication. He also thinks its important because it leads to an analogue of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In general under the second law matter tends toward increasing stability, i.e., lower energy levels. Pross's analogue is that replicating systems tend toward what he calls dynamic kinetic stability. But all that means is that the better replicators win. I don't think it's appropriate to act as if this is a major discovery when replication applies to chemistry.

Pross also says that he and his colleagues showed that replicators that are able to capture energy can be better replicators than those that don't. The reason is that the energy enables the chemical reactions involved in the replication to proceed faster -- and hence for those replicators to be better at replicating. This, he says, is the origin of metabolism. That's a nice idea.

But the preceding is really the technical content of the book. There are no details to substantiate what Pross says -- although he does cite the relevant literature. In short the book was both very hand-wavey and very repetitive in that the same hand waves occurred over and over.

Pross has something to say, but it would have been much better said as an opinion piece on a widely available website.
23 von 28 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Well worth consideration 9. Dezember 2012
Von The Gypsy Reader - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the physical/chemical/biological bases of like. Although the early chapters initially seemed to me to be so abstract and philosophical that I feared it would not get down to more specifics, it soon became clear that the author used the initial analysis and streams of thought to lay the groundwork for the remainder of the work, and parts of the early chapters began to fall into place. Part of his basic thesis is that by combining certain self-replicating complex molecules with basic metabolic molecular systems, in the proper chemical and physical context, one can explain the development of ever more complex molecular systems that eventually transform into living systems. He also shows how some of the thoughts of Charles Darwin can be applied to these systems as well as to the already well-known application of Darwin's thoughts to the evolution of well-developed animal communities.
One doesn't have to be a chemist or biologist to understand the book; it's quite clearly written. I am not a chemist or biologist myself (although for many years I've studied such matters out of my own interest), and therefore can't pass any sort of final judgment on the full argument of the book, but I suspect many a scientist would also find many of the thoughts, evidence, and arguments in the text to be worth their consideration.
A very nice job all around
10 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen Adequate but not great 23. August 2013
Von Bob B. - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
(From Bob Buntrock) Very interesting but I was distressed by several simplifications and misconceptions. Pross considers only entropy (second law) as influencing chemical reactivity, ignoring Gibbs Free Energy. He also fails to acknowledge chemical equilibria, change in kinetics by dwindling resources, especially for self catalyzed reactions, etc. Metabolism is discussed but not as a provider of stasis. His definition of life, by applying only to organisms that can replicate, causes mules and other non-fertile organisms to not be considered "living" although every growing cell in their bodies is replicating. Does he plan to extend this definition to non-fertile or non-breeding humans. Overall, very redundant. Although I haven't read it, the paper upon which this book is based would seem to be a better read.

There's a lot of interest currently, including by me in the origins of life so I added this book to my reading list. I'd recommend it to the educated lay public of all philosophical stripes, noting qulaifications in the rest of my review. Supplement with additional reading (I am).
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen That's life! Or is it? 8. Februar 2013
Von still searching - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
In 1944 Erwin Schrodinger published a little book with the title, `What is Life?' Though, obviously not the first to pose this question, it is purported to have provided at least part of the inspiration to those, such as Watson and Crick, who would later go some way to answering it.

Addy Pross, though using the same title, adds the sub-title, `How Chemistry Becomes Biology' and this is quite odd as he spends most of this very slim book attempting to persuade the reader of exactly the opposite; i.e. that biology is simply a sub set of chemistry, or at least its natural extension. His justification for this curious and, I imagine irritating - at least to biologists, strangely naïve claim is his depiction of the transformation from non-living to living matter as a two stage process the first of which, the abiological phase, which is governed, principally, according to the established laws of chemistry, results from the autocatalytic replication of organic molecules such as RNA resulting in replicating networks or primitive forms of embryonic proto-life. The second, biological, phase is governed by the `rules' of evolution as elucidated by Darwin leading to an increase in organic complexity and the biodiversity we see today.

Furthermore, he suggests the very same evolutionary rules that underpin the existence and survival of all living things also governed the `persistence' of these early organic molecules, which were `selected for' according to their `fitness' as replicators with fitness being determined largely by their relative dynamic kinetic stabilities (DKS): basically, those that could replicate the quickest and thus were more kinetically stable persisted longer, replicated more often and, as a result of mutations, gave rise to chemical diversity and increasingly more complex molecules the interactions of which produced the kind of `emergent properties' postulated as being, at east potentially, characteristic of primitive forms of proto-life. In order to convince the reader of the plausibility of his hypothesis he provides, early on, a brief explanation of the philosophical basis of the `scientific method'; i.e. induction, and then proceeds, in a kind of `sleight of hand' way, to outline his argument on the basis of this underlying assumed `inductive' authority.

The book does revisit interesting questions and posits some potentially intriguing ways in which these might be answered. However, in no way, does it get anywhere near answering the basic question posed by its title and it would have benefitted hugely if its author had been a little more `up-front' about this.

Finally, those readers who do not have, at least, some acquaintance with science and its often abstruse terminology, might find the book, though short in length, a little heavy going.
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