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What Is Life? Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology

Ed Regis, Author
Ed Regis, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $22 (198p) ISBN 978-0-374-28851-8
Reviewed on: 01/21/2008
Release date: 04/01/2008
Paperback - 198 pages - 978-0-19-538341-6
Open Ebook - 208 pages - 978-1-4299-9628-0
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As scientists come closer to creating artificial life, the very definition of life is ever more elusive. Science writer Regis (The Biology of Doom ) tackles this large issue and more in a book that never quite finds its focus. By selecting the same title as Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger's 1945 classic and Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan's 2000 offering, Regis self-consciously situates his book as a response to theirs. He is, however, no more successful than they were in answering the central question, though he proposes cell metabolism as the best definition we currently have. Regis discusses current attempts to use new techniques to create entities that could be considered living, but he fails to tell a compelling story about either the progress being made or the medical implications of these efforts. Instead, he heads off on several well-traveled tangents presenting relatively simple explanations of how we've come to our understanding of DNA, basic metabolic pathways and evolutionary biology. Although he touches on the fact that being able to distinguish animate from inanimate entities is of critical philosophical importance for debates over such issues as abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, he never does more than scratch the surface of any of these topics. (Apr.)

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