[Book review] What is Life?: Understand Biology in Five Steps

When I was an undergraduate, I took Biology, statistics, and economics simultaneously, and at the time, I thought the three were very similar. Now I am involved in an interdisciplinary project called Bioeconomy, which spans all three of these departments. I would never have thought that having more than one department would be an advantage.

It was then that I picked up this book, which I thought would be interesting. It was the first book written for a general audience by a Nobel Prize winner, Dr Paul Nurse. I'm always reading several books at the same time, and I thought that a difficult book like this would be a bit of a put-off and a long game, but it was exciting, and I finished it in an instant (^^;).

Dr Nurse doesn't take an evasive stance and say "you'll know it when you see it" when asked "what if life" are, but rather gives profound explanations from the fields of cells, genes, evolution, chemistry and information. It is up to the reader to decide whether his explanations are interesting or not.

The commentary I found most interesting was the definition of a living organism as a machine, "an information processor that regulates itself". As a counterpoint, there is a steam engine that automatically controls its speed, and reading the explanation, I think that humans are indeed machines. In the process, chemistry, genetics and cytology were used to explain homeostasis. The homeostasis, which I thought I knew, I now understand that I am an information processing machine and that when I switch on the homeostasis by chemistry, I go on. The other explanations are also fascinating and easy to understand, even for someone who has never studied biology before.

Interestingly, it is not only like a biology textbook, but also Dr. Nurse's life is mentioned in many places. It tells the story of how he discovered the gene CDC2, which controls cell division, the secret of his birth, and how he had to have heart surgery. His life philosophy accompanies these events.

For example, he wrote that he became an atheist but that science had shown him the way to logic and understanding and had given him more certainty and stability in his life. He explains how ethically wrong it is for people to oppose vaccination or oppose the genetic engineering of nutritious crops because they cannot or will not understand scientific knowledge but bring their ideology to bear. It is interesting to read his arguments, not only to learn more about biological life, but also to see how a leading scientist understands the current problems and proposes solutions.

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