cover image Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili. Crown, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-307-98681-8

It is a challenging task to find ways to bridge two highly technical disciplines for the general reader, but McFadden, a molecular geneticist, and Al-Khalili, a theoretical physicist, attempt it with some success, using the principles of quantum mechanics to explain the intricacies of molecular biology. As the authors note, “quantum mechanics is utterly counterintuitive,” so bringing readers to the point where they can understand the topic well enough to appreciate how it might be applied to biological problems is nearly impossible. Nevertheless, McFadden and Al-Khalili find ways to present the results of some recent scientific studies so as to make the case that quantum mechanics likely plays a role in biological topics as diverse as enzymatic reactions, olfaction, and animal migration. They get a bit more speculative when they posit that such interactions may be responsible for many genetic mutations, consciousness, and the origin of life. They pay particular attention to Erwin Schrödinger’s 1944 book, What Is Life, claiming that many of the ideas set forth in that slim volume were both correct and essential for our current understanding of biology. However, most biologists and historians of biology disagree with the latter assertion. Until more experimentation catches up with the speculation offered, McFadden and Khalili’s interesting ideas are unlikely to be persuasive. [em]Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville & Walsh Literary Agency. (Aug.) [/em]