A C.I.P. Catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

ISBN-10 1-4020-5417-3 (HB) ISBN-13 978-1-4020-5417-4 (HB) ISBN-10 1-4020-5418-1 (e-book) ISBN-13 978-1-4020-5418-1 (e-book)

Published by Springer,

P.O. Box 17, 3300 AA Dordrecht, The Netherlands. www.springer.com

Printed on acid-free paper

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Springer

No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, microfilming, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the Publisher, with the exception of any material supplied specifically for the purpose of being entered and executed on a computer system, for exclusive use by the purchaser of the work.


Preface vii

1 Introduction 1

2. Ingredients of the simplest cells 7

(Prokaryotes and the sizes of their contents)

3. Bigger cells 17

(Eukaryotic cells and their contents)

4. Hives of industry 29

(A survey of intermediary metabolism)

5. Delights of transport 39

(How the cell's contents are moved around)

6. As if standing still 49

(Cellular homeostasis and regulatory processes)

7. Internal state and gene expression 57

(Transcription and its control)

8. Sustaining and changing the internal state 67

(The interrelationship between gene expression and the cell's current composition and functional state)

9. Responding to the environment 79

(Signalprocessing, gene expression and internal state)

10. The living state 91

(A characterization of 'life')

11. Stability and change in DNA 105

(How genes can be altered)

12. The spice of life 117

(Diversity, natural selection and symbiosis )

13. Curriculum vitae 131

(An outline history of life on Earth)

14. The origin of life 147

(Some major ideas and unanswered questions)

15. Other worlds 163

(The possibility of extraterrestrial life)

16. Intelligent behaviour and brains 179

(The biological meaning of "intelligence ")

17. Human evolution 195

(Human intelligence and the question of human uniqueness)

18. Cells, brains and computers: towards a characterisation of mind 209

Glossary and pronunciation guide 223

Further reading 231

Index 237


Thanks to the popular media, and to books by Dawkins, Fortey, Gould, Margulis and other writers, people are informed about many aspects of biology. Everyone seems to know a little about evolution, for example, and about DNA and the possibilities (good and bad) afforded by research in molecular genetics. Most people know some of the arguments for and against the likelihood of life on other planets. And so on. We are glad that these pieces of information have become so widely available. However, we do not assume any particular knowledge (other than the most basic) in this book. Our aim is to address general questions rather than specific issues. We want to enable our readers to join their disparate pieces of knowledge about biology together.

The most basic of these general questions - and perhaps the most difficult -can be expressed in beguilingly simple words: "What is life"? What does modern biology tell us about the essential differences between living organisms and the inanimate world? An attempt to answer this question takes us on a journey through almost the whole of contemporary cell and molecular biology, which occupies the first half of the book. The journey is worth the effort. The provisional answer we attain provides a coherent, unifying context in which we can discuss evolution, the origin of life, extraterrestrial life, the meaning of "intelligence", the evolution of the human brain and the nature of mind. In other words, it enables us - as we said - to help our readers to join their disparate pieces of information together.

Although we assume virtually no knowledge of biology and use nontechnical language as far as possible, we cannot avoid using some technical terms. These will be unfamiliar to many readers, so we have added a glossary and pronunciation guide after the final chapter.

We intend this book to be the first volume of a trilogy. In the second volume we plan to explore what science is, and why scientific thinking originated and flourished in western society. We want to investigate the ways in which biology resembles other sciences and the ways in which it differs from them. In the third book, we hope to explore the most controversial topics associated with biology today: patenting of human genes, cloning, genetic modification of crops, the obliteration of habitats, the extinction of species, and so on. This first volume is a prelude to these future projects.

We are grateful to many colleagues for discussions and advice during the several years of gestation of this book, and to the Carnegie Trust for a grant to support the project. All the illustrations were prepared by Dr Ruth Campbell, whose diligence in this work we gratefully acknowledge. Some of the illustrations are reproduced with permission from published sources: Fig. 2.1 from Goodsell (1991) "Inside the living cell," Trends Biochem. Sci. 16, 206-210; Figs. 3.1(a) and 7.1 (b) from Mayer, Wheatley and Hoppert (2006) in Water and the Cell, chapter 12, Springer, Dordrecht; Figs. 5.3 and 13.5 from de Robertis and de Robertis (1980) Cell and Molecular Biology, 7th edition, Saunders, Philadelphia; Fig 6.5 from http://personalpages .umist.ac.uk/staff/ goughlecture/the-cell/diffdev3/haemo.jpg; Fig. 8.3 from Wheatley (1982) The Centriole: a Central Enigma of Cell Biology, North Holland Biomedical Press; Fig. 10.2 from Hogben (1958) Science and the Citizen, George Allen and Unwin; Fig. 10.3 from <http://www.ug.edu.au/school> science lessons/3.0; and Fig. 12.2 from <http://steve:gb.com/images/science/hydrothermal.jpg>.

While we have done our best to distil the basic concepts that guide biology today, informed readers are likely to consider parts of the text to be in need of revision or correction. We shall be glad of critical feedback. Science is a collective activity, and we are part of the collective.


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