Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos

Peter M. Hoffmann. Basic, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-02253-3
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By blending the laws of physics with the principles of biology, Hoffmann, a professor of physics and material science at Wayne State, attempts to explain how molecules give rise to living organisms. Molecules inside our cells, he says, are the smallest particles of life. These molecules act like robots: they build themselves, perform tasks, and are recycled to perform new tasks. These “molecular machines” use the energy of chaos surrounding them—in which atoms are buffeted by the random motion of the “molecular storm”— to create order and give rise to life. Hoffmann provides a rather dry and lengthy historical and philosophical perspective on the definition of life, concluding that it is “the result of noise and chaos, filtered through the structures of highly sophisticated molecular machines that have evolved over billions of years.” The biological mechanisms he describes are from the cutting edge of the discipline, but may be presented in more detail than is necessary for the average reader. One confusion is that the “molecular machines” in the title all refer to naturally occurring combinations of molecules rather than any of those currently being created in the laboratories of nanotechnologists. 40 b&w illus. Agent: Russell Galen at Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Oct. 30)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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