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Quantum Evolution: How Physics' Weirdest Theory Explains Life's Biggest Mystery (Norton Paperback) Paperback – May 17, 2002
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The hairiest heresy of evolutionary biology, the one most likely to get scientists figuratively burned at the stake, is the notion that any force more selective than blind chance could drive mutation. Such "directed evolution" smacks too much of a retreat into creationism for most science-minded readers to be comfortable with, but there's no a priori reason to reject the idea. Molecular biologist Johnjoe McFadden risks the Inquisition by suggesting just such a possibility in Quantum Evolution: The New Science of Life. Directed at a general but somewhat sophisticated readership, the book covers the basics of both standard evolutionary theory and quantum-level physics, then synthesizes them in an interesting theory of made-to-order mutation that explains enough to warrant attention and is, importantly, testable.
McFadden's writing is clear and sharp, and it shows a high regard for the reader's intelligence and patience for complex ideas. This is no airplane book--except for those already well-versed in the latest in both evolutionary theory and subatomic physics. The rewards of reading are great, and the author bows just enough to established theory that he might meet the fate of his intellectual predecessors. The ideas underlying Quantum Evolution may be right or wrong, but they challenge received wisdom without plunging into dogmatism--and that's good science. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
McFadden's attempt to pinpoint what makes life "alive" begins with a long, slow, multidisciplinary explanation of life's fundamental processes and ends with a fantastic quest through the strangest branch of science: quantum mechanics. Traversing all the great thinkers who laid the foundations of biology, genetics, physics, chemistry and mechanics, the first half is written for those with very little or no knowledge of science. The transitions between even widely disparate topics are flawless and build a coherent picture of the complexity of even the simplest organisms. Once quantum mechanics truly becomes the focus (approximately halfway through), McFadden's talent for description hits perfect pitch. Layers of understanding about the unfathomable peculiarities of fundamental particles lead to amazing possibilities. McFadden voices a new theory that is gaining popularity: that quantum mechanical forces may have sparked life in the primordial soup, may create the difference between alive and inanimate objects and may even play a role in consciousness. Illus. not seen by PW. (Feb.)Forecast: Operating at two levels, this title may be a hard sell. The scientifically literate will want to skip the first half, with its elaborate explanations of the basics, and those little-versed in science may be overwhelmed by the book's main argument. Enthusiastic readers may be found, however, among those once immersed in science but who have been away from it for a long time; they will be able to use the beginning as a refresher course and will then be prepared for the main thesis. But reaching them in particular will be a challenge for booksellers.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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The second problem is the lack of precursors for the approximately one thousand protein families. McFadden states: "New protein families must have arisen from existing proteins by some kind of mutational process but how their sequence traversed this vast empty sequence space devoid of Darwinian intermediates is a mystery."
The third problem is the irreducibility of metabolic pathways. McFadden gives the example of AMP (adenosine monophosphate) which is a precursor of ATP. Thirteen different enzymes are needed to synthesize AMP, yet there exist no evidence of advantageous precursors of this biochemical in other organisms. How these sequences happened within the present Darwinian theory of gradualism is difficult to explain.
Finally, there is the problem of directionality of random mutations. Mutations happen blindly with no regard as to whether the mutation will be harmful or beneficial. Present evolutionary theory accounts for adaptive changes in the organisms through the process of natural selection. Those mutations which turn out to be advantageous to an organism will survive, and they will pass their genes onto the next generation. This is the bottom-up idea, in which changes happen randomly in the DNA. But there could possibly be something like a Lamarckian or top-down process as well.
McFadden sites an experiment which lends credence to this idea: John Cairns of the Harvard School of Public Health incubated two cultures of E. coli. ("A" and "B"). Both cultures were deficient in an enzyme needed to metabolize lactose. He fed culture A only lactose, and he fed culture B a yeast extract that does not require the missing enzyme for metabolism. He was investigating whether or not there would be a difference in the rate of gene mutation between the two groups. Culture A went into a latent phase and grew very slowly as expected, and culture B thrived. To his surprise, the stressed culture A produced many more mutations for the specific gene responsible for the enzyme needed to metabolize lactose than culture B. The rate of mutation for other genes not related to the lactose enzyme were the same in both cultures, which suggests that there must have been a specific signal from the environment with caused a top down change in the DNA. These finding have been supported in other epigenetic research.
McFadden believes that quantum theory could help fill in the gaps of evolutionary theory as well as explain how life originated. He readily admits the possibility that life originated by pure chance no matter how unlikely. If this is the case, then we would expect that we were the only life in the universe--a depressing proposition according to McFadden. Of course it is possible that life could have arisen only once in another part of the universe and our planet was "seeded" by a comet or some other means.
This was one of the most successful attempts to unite quantum theory and biology.
This review by David kreiter author of: "Confronting the Quantum Enigma: Albert, Niels, and John." (Avialable on Amazon)
The last third is a wonderful "wow" explanation of how biology can be influenced by the quantum realm and it is an exciting venture. It describes the role played by external forces (photons for example) acting as an outside agent/observer in collapsing the wave function of an ensemble of amino acid peptide bonds leading to self-replication and ushering in the possible mechanism for the creation of life itself. This is unique because the traditional wave function collapsing trigger has been a macro device or a conscious observer. You will need to read the book to get all the wonderful insight in the workings of quantum biology; I cannot do justice here. The author makes a really good case for seeing humans (and all life for that matter) as being quantum creatures; a really interesting twist on the workings of life beyond the typical biochemistry approach.
This book is best understood by someone with an intro course in college biology and having read one or two non-mathematical books on quantum mechanics. This is not a rigorous text containing abstract biological or physics concepts-it is written for the well informed and interested lay reader. If you are interested in biology and quantum mechanics, this book is awesome.