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Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life Hardcover
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*Starred Review* The first part of this book relates what’s been learned about the origin of life on earth; the second, what’s being done to modify existing life-forms and produce new ones. Though both are engaging, many may find the first more dazzling. Rutherford starts small, discussing the cell and how it is begotten, not created but ultimately taking in genetics and DNA as well as the earth’s physical history before life emerged from a microscopic chamber at the bottom of the sea, four million years ago. The second part lacks the first’s sweeping grandeur, being set in a much narrower time frame, the 30 years bioengineering has been with us. That’s long enough, however, to have seen gene-splicing give way to synthetic biology at the field’s cutting-edge as the spider-goat and biofuels have been supplanted in novelty by the successful copying by RNA of a molecule formed by swapping in a different amino acid for one of the four naturally found in the DNA sequence, which ultimately suggests a different basis for life, one that is created, not begotten by intelligent (human) design. Creation is the first book by this geneticist-journalist with two well-received BBC4 series, The Gene Code and The Cell, to his credit. May it augur many more top-drawer science books by Rutherford. --Ray Olson --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
“Combining superb science writing with a refreshing wit, Rutherford does an excellent job of bringing genomics and synthetic biology to life.”
“Rutherford delivers a timely and important dispatch from the field tilled by James Watson and Francis Crick…Creation shows that their revolution isn’t slowing down.”
—The Los Angeles Times--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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"Creation: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself" is a fascinating journey from the origins of all life and the origins of new artificial life. Science writer, Adam Rutherford takes the reader through the golden age of biology and explores the pathways to life on Earth and how to re-create it. What sets this book apart is the author's innate ability to make complex topics accessible, enlightening and entertaining. This excellent 288 page-book is composed of two halves: the first half covers the origin of life, while the second half covers how scientists are designing, engineering and building new life-forms for a purpose.
1. A well-written, engaging, entertaining and accessible book on modern biology.
2. A fascinating topic in the hands of an author with great communication skills.
3. What a wonderful way to learn about the history of biology.
4. The origin of cells. Cell theory. "Our understanding of the origin of new cells can be largely attributed to Robert Remak--a lost hero of biology, and a victim of politics and race."
5. The grand theory of evolution. An excellent explanation of what a theory constitutes in science.
6. This book stands out in making complex biological topics accessible; a positive worth repeating. "There are no life-forms we know of that do not employ and entirely depend upon it: DNA, made of four letters, translates into proteins, made of twenty amino acids. It is known as the central dogma: DNA makes RNA makes protein. The fact that all known life is utterly dependent on this system makes it seem almost inconceivable that it is not related by a single, common origin."
7. Fascinating facts abound, "For reasons we don't fully understand, proteins only use left-handed amino acids."
8. A dose of cosmology. "Theia's glancing blow may be what shifted the earth's axis from vertical to its off-kilter stance of 23.5 degrees." How cool is that?
9. Describing life. Great use of converging sciences like physics and chemistry to describe biology.
10. The origin of the code, "Evolution has given us a comprehensive description of how the wild spectrum of species has arisen from this simple code, but very little about how it came to be."
11. Understanding ribozymes.
12. Interesting theories on origin-of-life. The author does a wonderful job of differentiating between degrees of probability.
13. Many interesting science experiments including Nick Lane's bioreactor.
14. Understanding of proteins.
15. The future of biology, synthetic biology. Fascinating look! "What Craig Venter and his team did was to re-create a life-form synthetically. That is undoubtedly a huge achievement in itself. It's another incremental step on the pathway to having total control over DNA, and our ability to manipulate life."
16. Some truly remarkable studies underway in synthetic biology.
17. Electrical engineering and how it relates to synthetic biology.
18. A discussion on the challenges of bringing synthetic biology into society.
19. Touches upon issues like genetically modified food, and viruses.
20. Annotated bibliography.
1. No explicit mention of epigenetics.
2. Mentions that one magazine puts Venter as the fourteenth-most influential person on Earth, sandwiched between David Cameron and Sarah Palin. Really??
3. No use of graphs or illustrations that could have added value.
In summary, I really enjoyed this book. It's a fresh and interesting look at modern biology. Adam Rutherford has provided an enlightening gift for the public. It provides a fascinating look at the history of life and its future through synthetic biology. Don't miss this one, I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: "Wonders of Life: Exploring the Most Extraordinary Phenomenon in the Universe" by Brian Cox, "The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution" by Sean B. Carroll, "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" by Nicholas Wade, "The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People" by Neil Shubin, "Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health (Vintage)" by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, "Life Ascending" by Nick Lane, "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee, "The 10,000 Year Explosion" by Gregory Cochran, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, "Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA" by Daniel J. Fairbanks, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" by Richard Dawkins, "Written in Stone" by Brian Switek, "Molecular & Cell Biology for Dummies" by Rene Fester Kratz, "Evolution For Dummies" by Greg Krukonis, "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters" by Donald R. Prothero, "The Universe Inside You: The Extreme Science of the Human Body From Quantum Theory to the Mysteries of the Brain" by Brian Clegg, "The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code" by Sam Kean.
The book is not exactly light reading, esp., on a Kindle, but it's not a text book with an exam at the end of each chapter.
Starting with the idea that "If I can't build it I can't understand it." Rutherford discusses the history, materials and science, and current state of replicating life in the laboratory. His discussion of the legal, engineering, financial and market aspects of life creation is seem balanced and without specific agenda.
I recommend this book to anyone looking to understand a science "biological life" without wanting to become a practitioner. There is nothing here that should manifestly offend anyone's religious sensibilities...Rutherford is not reliving the Scopes Trial.