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Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell Paperback – March 1, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300167849
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300167849
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"'Whilst Bray doesn't shy away from using unfamiliar terms they are always explained in context. For a book delving into systems biology and comparing specific examples of biological processes to computational systems that's quite a welcome surprise... The style is elegant and very readable.' Celia Gitterman, Chemistry World 'Biology and information lie at the heart of a new scientific revolution. In this timely and illuminating volume, Dennis Bray passionately weaves a compelling case for a computational view of life.' Martyn Amos, author of Genesis Machines: The New Science of Biocomputing"

About the Author

Dennis Bray is professor emeritus, University of Cambridge, and coauthor of several influential texts on molecular and cell biology. In 2007, he was awarded the prestigious European Science Prize in Computational Biology.

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Customer Reviews

Of course, one should not expect a novel nor the pleasure of reading a novel from a book of this kind.
William Reich
The premise for this book is that systems of proteins can convey and process information at the level of a single free-living cell.
David A. Rintoul
Overall this book is well written, particularly the chapters on cell biology and is well worth reading by the general reader.
Alex Tolley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Eggcrate on June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The idea that cellular membranes and contents may be functional equivalents of computers may appear strange, if not implausible. Dennis Bray sets forth a highly readable, absolutely intriguing case for the machine nature of proteins that are in a constant dialog with their inner (the cell juice or cytosol) and outer environments, exploiting thermal diffusion, dynamic equilibrium, weak and strong bonding forces, all of which result in a fantastic orchesta of switching on and off to produce this phenomenon well call life.

There is something breathtaking in Bray's thesis, which is stated in such lucid and straightforward language that the general reader will wonder why cellular biology ever seemed like a difficult or alien subject.

Computational biology gives one the sense that we are at the threshold of yet another of civilization's "Spinoza moments" where the entire framework for thinking about life is dramatically, and irrevocably restructured.

Rather than being sourced in unfathomable complexity, life in this model is founded on processes of utmost simplicity, yet have evolved marvellously dense control networks within the structure of those simple rules.

Bray's Wetware is essential reading for the non specialist who wants to know where one of the most significant trends in science and phiolsophy are headed.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful By David A. Rintoul on June 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The premise for this book is that systems of proteins can convey and process information at the level of a single free-living cell. These proteins act as switches or transistors, functioning as the nervous system does for multicellular organisms. Bray presents abundant evidence that this is the case. Several well-studied cellular examples (e.g. bacterial chemotaxis) are used to illustrate the principle that complex behaviors and even the appearance of "consciousness" can be the product of relatively simple combinations of switches and outcomes. This is augmented by discussion of simple robots (e.g. Grey Walter's "tortoises") and computer games (e.g. PacMan), illustrating the point that some extremely complex behaviors can result from extremely simple circuits and motors.

His insight that "it is much more difficult to infer internal structure from the observation of behavior than to create the structure that gives the behavior in the first place" is a powerful one, and should give pause to anyone who subscribes to the notion of "intelligent design", or who thinks that cellular activities are "irreducibly complex". Humans can be easily fooled into believing that human-like attributes can only be attributed to human-like intelligence.. But the notion that a cell is so complex that it must have been designed by a supernatural agent is similar to the response one might imagine if a caveman was confronted by a simple robot. In both cases the object seems beyond comprehension; in both cases the object can actually be described by simple physical laws, circuits and switches.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Clive (Max) Maxfield on July 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book blew me away - my head is spinning - I'm a firm believer in evolution (of course), but having read this book I have more of a glimpse of the complexities involved I've decided that we can't possibly exist (grin).

Of course the title of this book doesn't imply a computer like we think of ... more the ability to perform computations and make decisions. To be honest I hadn't really thought about this stuff in this depth before, but as it says on the cover:

"How does a single-cell creature, such as an amoeba, lead such a sophisticated life? How does it hunt living prey, respond to lights, sounds, and smells, and display complex sequences of movements without the benefit of a nervous system?"

Having read this book I can just about understand how an amoeba can move around and hunt its prey etc ... and I can also understand how groups of similar cells can perform "quorum sensing" (detect their relative concentration - i.e how many of them are there in a given area) ... remembering that we're talking about single cells here...

But to go from there to the current peak of human evolution (that would be me ... and you I suppose ... but let's focus on me :-)

... well, all I can say is that "the mind boggles" ...

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around everything that I learned.

This is a fantastic book - highly recommended!!!
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Alex Tolley on December 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book get's close, but doesn't really hit the target of its title's promise.

Just to get one critique out of the way, Bray is largely correct when he states that the book does not suggest that single cell organisms have consciousness. Nevertheless, some language still remains that could be rephrased to remove vestiges of those thoughts. The last page also intimates that there could be a central organizing "brain" in an amoeba, which I think is neither required not indicated by the rest of the book.

Where this book excels is it's accessible description of cell processes from a computing model perspective. This works very well and the metaphor is extended to genetic networks and switches, and neural networks. He also includes a bried discussion of robotics, which are constructed with computer systems.

Where this book falls short is that while the metaphor of computation can be used in a host of processes, it is not formalized to show that computation is being done by the cell and organ systems, and not something else that looks like computation.
This might seem like a semantic quibble, but it is important, because otherwise this book just follows in the long tradition of describing living systems in the technology of the day, e.g. clockwork machines in the C18th.

Overall this book is well written, particularly the chapters on cell biology and is well worth reading by the general reader.
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