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  • 15 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 274 pages
  • Size: 234 x 156 mm
  • Weight: 0.58 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521841955 | ISBN-10: 052184195X)

Erwin Schrödinger's What is Life? published 60 years ago, influenced much of the development of molecular biology. In this new book Christian De Duve, Nobel Laureate and pioneer of modern cell biology, presents a contemporary response to this classic, providing a sophisticated consideration of the key steps or bottlenecks that constrain the origins and evolution of life. De Duve surveys the entire history of life, including insights into the conditions that may have led to its emergence. He uses as landmarks the many remarkable singularities along the way, such as the single ancestry of all living beings, the universal genetic code, and the monophyletic origin of eukaryotes. The book offers a brief guided tour of biochemistry and phylogeny, from the basic molecular building blocks to the origin of humans. Each successive singularity is introduced in a sequence paralleling the hypothetical development of features and conditions on the primitive earth, explaining how and why each transition to greater complexity occurred.

• Author won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, and is one of the pioneers of cell biology • The book lays out, for a scientifically sophisticated readership, a vision and perspective on the successive constraining events that have determined the course of life's evolution on earth, as well as de Duve's views on how life may have originated


1. Building blocks; 2. Homochirality; 3. Protometabolism; 4. ATP; 5. Electrons and protons; 6. Thioesters; 7. RNA; 8. Proteins; 9. DNA; 10. Membranes; 11. Protonmotive force; 12. Protometabolism revisited; 13. The LUCA; 14. The first fork; 15. Eukaryotes; 16. Oxygen; 17. Endosymbionts; 18. Multicellular organisms; 19. Homo; 20. Evolution revisited.


'… fine, incisive prose. … [De Duve] takes us on a dazzling trip within a cell, providing a beautiful exposition of life's biochemical cycles, their elegance, equilibrium and evolution.' New Scientist

'Christian de Duve gives his readers generous transparency in laying bare his reasoning and in the aesthetics of his current attempt at hard and beautiful problems concerning the unitary features of life and their origin. Few books allow this continuity of thinking over sucha broad range of interrekated problems.' BioEssays

'… we should always be alert to the great problems, such as understanding the processes leading to the origin of life. Given past experience, such great questions will be solved - not by chance but by the prepared mind. This book is a start to preparing that mind.' Nature

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