A Guided Tour of the Living Cell

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The author guides us on a wondrous journey through the past four billion years, from the formation of the first biomolecules to the complexities of the human mind, from microscopic chains of amino acids and nucleotides to cataclysmic events in distant galaxies, arriving at the compelling conclusion that the universe is strewn with "vital dust" capable of spawning life anywhere under the right conditions. Life and mind are not accidents; they are natural manifestations of matter. At the heart of Vital Dust is the ...
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Overview

The author guides us on a wondrous journey through the past four billion years, from the formation of the first biomolecules to the complexities of the human mind, from microscopic chains of amino acids and nucleotides to cataclysmic events in distant galaxies, arriving at the compelling conclusion that the universe is strewn with "vital dust" capable of spawning life anywhere under the right conditions. Life and mind are not accidents; they are natural manifestations of matter. At the heart of Vital Dust is the concept of seven increasingly complex "ages" of life on Earth. With each age, de Duve shows the key event that defined the age and the new event that led to the next. He argues that simple, deterministic chemical reactions put life on track but that other mechanisms led inexorably to greater complexity and biodiversity: the development of a lock-and-key system that serves as the universal device of biological recognition at the molecular level; the emergence of a common ancestor of all organisms, from amoebas to humans; the great oxygen holocaust; the conversion of some bacteria into complex cells; and the successive improvements in reproductive strategies that made possible the spectacular diversity of life on Earth.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a work of majestic sweep and bold speculation, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist de Duve presents an awesome panorama of life on Earth, from the first biomolecules to the emergence of the human mind and our species' future. Professor emeritus at Manhattan's Rockefeller University, de Duve rejects the view that life arose through a series of accidents, nor does he invoke God, goal-directed causes or vitalism, which regards living beings as matter animated by vital spirit. Instead, in a remarkable synthesis of biochemistry, paleontology, evolutionary biology, genetics and ecology, he argues for a meaningful universe in which life and mind emerged, inevitably and deterministically, because of prevailing conditions. Starting with a single-celled organism, resembling modern bacteria, which appeared 3.8 billion years ago and gave rise to all forms of life on earth today, de Duve delineates seven successive ages corresponding to increasing levels of complexity. He predicts that our species may evolve into a ``human hive'' or planetary superorganism, a society in which individuals would abandon some of their freedom for the benefit of all; alternately, if Homo sapiens disappears, he envisages our replacement by another intelligent species. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Around four billion years ago, natural chemical reactions led to the formation of organic molecules in the Earth's waters. From these, nucleic acids emerged, then cells, then multicellular organisms, and, ultimately, the astonishing biodiversity on Earth today. De Duve, a cell biologist and Nobel laureate, invokes a grand scope in this exposition of the origin and future of life. He examines seven successive life "ages," beginning with the "Age of Chemistry," when biomolecules first emerged, and ending with "The Age of the Unknown," our possible biological futures. The first four parts, which report on topics from the author's field of expertise and include information on his original theories, have a rather high technical content. The pace and readability pick up in later chapters, in which de Duve discusses higher plant and animal evolution. For general readers with no background on the subject, there are more accessible books on the origin of life on Earth (e.g., A.G. Cairns-Smith's Seven Clues to the Origin of Life, Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1990), but this ambitious, authoritative work can be highly recommended for nonspecialist readers who possess basic science literacy.-Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780716750024
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/1984
  • Series: Scientific American Library
  • Pages: 463

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
Preface
Introduction: The Unity of Life; The Tree of Life; The Antiquity of Life; The Cradle of Life; The Probability of Life; Foresight Excluded; The Ages of Life 1
Pt. I The Age of Chemistry
Ch. 1 The Search for Origins 15
Ch. 2 The First Catalysts of Life 26
Ch. 3 The Fuel of Emerging Life 34
Ch. 4 The Advent of RNA 46
Pt. II The Age of Information
Ch. 5 RNA Takes Over 55
Ch. 6 The Code 65
Ch. 7 Genes in the Making 75
Ch. 8 Freedoms and Constraints 83
Pt. III The Age of the Protocell
Ch. 9 Encapsulating Life 89
Ch. 10 Turning Membranes into Machines 99
Ch. 11 Adaptation to Life in Confinement 107
Ch. 12 The Ancestor of All Life 112
Ch. 13 The Universality of Life 118
Pt. IV The Age of the Single Cell
Ch. 14 Bacteria Conquer the World 125
Ch. 15 The Making of a Eukaryote 137
Ch. 16 The Primitive Phagocyte 147
Ch. 17 The Guests That Stayed 160
Pt. V The Age of Multicellular Organisms
Ch. 18 The Benefits of Cellular Collectivism 171
Ch. 19 The Greening of the Earth 176
Ch. 20 The First Animals 187
Ch. 21 Animals Fill the Oceans 196
Ch. 22 Animals Move Out of the Sea 203
Ch. 23 The Web of Life 214
Ch. 24 The Virtues of Junk DNA 222
Pt. VI The Age of the Mind
Ch. 25 The Step to Human 229
Ch. 26 The Brain 236
Ch. 27 The Workings of the Mind 245
Ch. 28 The Works of the Mind 257
Ch. 29 Values 261
Pt. VII The Age of the Unknown
Ch. 30 The Future of Life 271
Ch. 31 The Meaning of Life 286
Notes 303
Glossary 325
Additional Reading 341
Index 351
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