Seventy years ago, Erwin Schrödinger 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.
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"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
"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
"In-depth description: 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.
My first impression: A bag full of chemicals with the identical components and proportions that a human has lacks something special – life. This book focuses on these spectacularly interesting questions: what is that special ingredient necessary for life? When do everyday chemicals cross the boundary to become living matter? What is that special élan vital that makes chemicals animate? I think this book will resonate strongly with those of you who, like me, have studied or taught both biology and chemistry."
– Grrlscientist, The Guardian, 05-10-2012
1: Living things are so very strange
2: Historic quest for a theory of life
3: Understanding, understanding
4: Stability and instability
5: The knotty origin of life problem
6: Biology's crisis of identity
7: Biology is chemistry
8: What is Life?
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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.