Thanks to the popular media, and to books by Dawkins, Fortey, Gould, Margulis and other writers, people are informed about many aspects of biology. Everyone seems to know a little about evolution, for example, and about DNA and the possibilities (good and bad) afforded by research in molecular genetics. Most people know some of the arguments for and against the likelihood of life on other planets. And so on. We are glad that these pieces of information have become so widely available. However, we do not assume any particular knowledge (other than the most basic) in this book. Our aim is to address general questions rather than specific issues. We want to enable our readers to join their disparate pieces of knowledge about biology together. The most basic of these general questions – and perhaps the most difficult – can be expressed in beguilingly simple words: “What is life”? What does modern biology tell us about the essential differences between living organisms and the inanimate world? An attempt to answer this question takes us on a journey through almost the whole of contemporary cell and molecular biology, which occupies the first half of the book. The journey is worth the effort. The provisional answer we attain provides a coherent, unifying context in which we can discuss evolution, the origin of life, extraterrestrial life, the meaning of “intelligence”, the evolution of the human brain and the nature of mind.
Makes modern cell biology comprehensible to the non-specialist
Integrates cell biology with origin-of-life theories
Adopts a distinctive position in respect of extraterrestrial life and human uniqueness
This book uses modern biological knowledge to tackle the question: "What distinguishes living organisms from the non-living world?" In the first few chapters, the authors draw on recent advances in cell and molecular biology to develop an account of the "living state" that applies to all organisms, but only to organisms. Subsequent chapters use this account to explore questions about evolution, the origin of life and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Towards the end of the book the authors consider human evolution, intelligence and the extent to which our species can be regarded as biologically unique. About Life is written as far as possible in non-technical language; all scientific terms are explained straightforwardly when they are introduced. It is aimed at the general, non-specialist reader, but the novel approach that it takes to general issues in biology will also interest students of the life sciences.
Ingredients of the Simplest Cells.- Bigger Cells.- Hives of Industry.- Delights of Transport.- As If Standing Still.- Internal State and Gene Expression.- Sustaining and Changing the Internal State.- Responding to the Environment.- The Living State.- Stability and Change in DNA.- The Spice of Life.- Curriculum Vitae.- The Origin of Life.- Other Worlds.- Intelligent Behaviour and Brains.- Human Evolution.- Cells, Brains and Computers: Towards a Characterisation of Mind.