- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Rutgers University Press; 1 edition (February 1, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0813527406
- ISBN-13: 978-0813527406
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,404,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview Paperback – February 1, 2000
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"A rich source for the specialist and thought-provoking reading for the lay person." -- Gunter Wachtershauser, University of Regensburg, Germany
"Essential reading for people in disciplines ranging from philosophy to biology. It is simple the best general book that I know on the question of the origin of life." - -- Michael Ruse, author of Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?
"Fry has fashioned a masterful account of the history, philosophy, and science of the origin of life and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Her story weaves profound Western ideas of who we are and where we came from, from Aristotle to Gould, from Kant to NASA." -- Woodruff Sullivan, University of Washington
From the Back Cover
How did life emerge on Earth? Is there life on other worlds? These questions, until recently confined to the pages of speculative essays and tabloid headlines, are now the subject of legitimate scientific research. This book presents a unique perspective-a combined historical, scientific, and philosophical analysis, which does justice to the complex nature of the subject.
The book's first part offers an overview of the main ideas on the origin of life as they developed from antiquity until the twentieth century. The second, more detailed part of the book examines contemporary theories and major debates within the origin-of-life scientific community.
Topics include: - Aristotle and the Greek atomists' conceptions of the organism - Alexander Oparin and J.B.S. Haldane's 1920s breakthrough papers - Possible life on Mars? - The search for extraterrestrial intelligence - Recent discoveries of extrasolar planets
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Every living cell known to us is made up of nucleic acids—DNA and RNA—and proteins. And these two fundamental components of the cell are completely interdependent. And that interdependence is the stumbling block of origin of life theories today, a problem that fry appropriately dubs "the chicken and the egg": They are too complex to have emerged simultaneously on the primordial earth, so how could one have been produced without the other?
Many ideas have been proposed to get around this problem, but nothing yet concrete. The most popular of these ideas is the 'RNA world hypothesis', which suggest that RNA could have done the job of both nucleic acids and proteins. Another interesting hypothesis, called Panspermia, proposes that life developed elsewhere in the universe and then arrived to Earth on top of meteorites, comets, etc.
At the end of the book, Fry goes on to discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Most scientist seem to agree that extraterrestrial life most probably exist. Intelligent extraterrestrial life on the other hand is a completely different issue. Many scientists view the evolution of intelligent life as extremely improbable. "We have to realize," Stephen Jay Gould states, "that the origin of Homo sapiens was a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb on a fortunate tree." So, while there’s a very big chance that we will find life somewhere else, that life will most likely not be intelligent.
Iris Fry is an accomplished scientist and historian, and knows what she’s talking about. And although her book may have been a bit of a heavy read at times, I found it very informative.
Next we find out about the contributions of Sidney Fox, who suggested a model that started with abiotic material and then generated amino acids, condensed them to form "protenoids," and then formed cell-like "microspheres." This was a "protein-first approach." That is contrasted with the "gene-first approach" and accompanying experiments by Spiegelman, Orgel, and Eigen.
There is a discussion of the "RNA world" and whether or not there was a world of earlier self-replicators. And Fry gives arguments for and against the ideas of Freeman Dyson (with the emphasis on primitive cells), Stuart Kauffman (with the emphasis on "catalytic closure") and Gunter Wachtershauser (with the emphasis on Iron Sulfide chemistry).
Fry is at her best discussing the need to ask if life originated by a series of likely steps, by design, or by one or more unlikely steps. She makes it clear that long required sequences simply can't form by pure chance. There must be some natural ordering (such as in snowflakes) as well as incremental improvement (in an evolutionary manner). And if we are left with some theories that require some incredible luck and some theories that do not require such luck, we'll obviously prefer the latter. She discusses de Duve's ideas here. It seems that a "scaffolding" approach is a good concept, while autocatalytic cycles may be needed almost by definition (of life).
That gets us to the final chapter, where the definition of life is indeed discussed. In addition, Fry talks about the possibility of there having been life on Mars and elsewhere in our solar system. There's also some material about habitable zones, and on the possibility of life on extrasolar planets.
I recommend this book.