Creation: How Science Is Reinventing Life Itself

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Overview

What is life?
 
Humans have been asking this question for thou­sands of years. But as technology has advanced and our understanding of biology has deepened, the answer has evolved. For decades, scientists have been exploring the limits of nature by modifying and manipulating DNA, cells and whole organisms to create new ones that could never have existed on their own.
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Overview

What is life?
 
Humans have been asking this question for thou­sands of years. But as technology has advanced and our understanding of biology has deepened, the answer has evolved. For decades, scientists have been exploring the limits of nature by modifying and manipulating DNA, cells and whole organisms to create new ones that could never have existed on their own.
 
In Creation, science writer Adam Rutherford explains how we are now radically exceeding the boundaries of evolution and engineering entirely novel creatures—from goats that produce spider silk in their milk to bacteria that excrete diesel to genetic circuits that identify and destroy cancer cells. As strange as some of these creations may sound, this new, synthetic biology is helping scientists develop radical solutions to some of the world’s most pressing crises—from food shortages to pandemic disease to climate change—and is paving the way for inventions once relegated to science fiction.
 
Meanwhile, these advances are shedding new light on the biggest mystery of all—how did life begin? We know that every creature on Earth came from a single cell, sparked into existence four billion years ago. And as we come closer and closer to understanding the ancient root that connects all living things, we may finally be able to achieve a second genesis—the creation of new life where none existed before.
 
Creation takes us on a journey four billion years in the making—from the very first cell to the ground-breaking biological inventions that will shape the future of our planet.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Combining superb science writing with a refreshing wit, Rutherford does an excellent job of bringing genomics and synthetic biology to life in this accessible overview of the past and future of the fields. In the first half, the Nature magazine editor describes what we know about cellular biology, while the second portion explores where and how we might apply our growing knowledge base in the future. He argues that the theory of evolution does not aim to explain the origin of life, but he also insists that in order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’re from, and one of the best ways to do that is to trace evolution at the cellular level: “In every cell is a perfect unbroken chain that stretches inevitably back... to one single entity, which we call the Last Universal Common Ancestor.” His elucidations of this concept and others are well-crafted and clear enough for lay readers to easily grasp his meaning. Most compellingly, he argues that increased biological research and experimentation might herald a shift that would rival the Industrial Revolution in terms of social change. There’s much to savor here—even in the footnotes. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (June 13)
Kirkus Reviews
The day is nearly here when scientists will create the first purely synthetic life. This prediction turns up regularly, but British science writer and Nature editor Rutherford insists that the time is ripe, and he makes his case with contagious enthusiasm. Following requirements of the genre, the author delivers a lucid history of the Earth and the appearance of life 3.8 billion years ago--so quickly after the planet's cooling that it may be a natural process. To give readers an idea of the daunting challenges that scientists face, Rutherford explains life's processes: DNA, an immense helical molecule in every cell's nucleus, provides information in the form of genes, small triplets of molecules on the helix; RNA copies the information; cell structures called ribosomes make proteins from the RNA template. Other structures, called mitochondria, provide energy. A protective membrane surrounds every cell, separating it from the world outside. This sounds complex, but, provided scientists manipulate DNA properly, startling things happen, and Rutherford devotes the second half of his book to their efforts. In 2010 researchers synthesized all 517 genes of a tiny bacteria, inserted them into a cell, and they worked. Goats given a certain spider gene produce milk filled with spider silk. Readers may roll their eyes to learn of cells programmed to seek out and kill cancers (another claim that appears regularly), but they will be impressed by bacteria that can act as a photographic film, consume plastic waste or manufacture bricks. While it is unlikely that scientists will synthesize a human in the near future, genuinely amazing biology is in the works, and Rutherford delivers a fascinating overview.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781617230059
  • Publisher: Current Hardcover
  • Publication date: 6/13/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 460,392
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

ADAM RUTHERFORD is a science writer and broadcaster. He is an editor at Nature, writes for the Guardian and regularly presents programs for BBC Radio 4 in the UK. He has also presented several acclaimed science series for BBC television, including the award winning three-part series The Cell. A geneticist by training, he has a PhD from University College London.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 3, 2013

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

    As the blueprint of all that lives, DNA may be said to be the key to understanding life itself. It is incredible to think, then, that the structure of DNA was only discovered some 60 years ago (thanks especially to the work of James Watson and Francis Crick). Since that time, many significant advances in genetics have been made--including the deciphering of the genomes of numerous species (including our own); and, even more impressively, the successful manipulation of the genetic code to introduce the features of one species to another (for example, having a goat produce spider's silk out of its milk).

    As impressive as these feats are, though, they are but the beginning of what promises to come from the study of genetics. Indeed, compared with other sciences, such as physics and chemistry, genetics is still in its infancy, and we can be assured that the most significant discoveries and applications are yet to come. Even now, geneticists are making significant progress in uncovering the origin of life--meaning answering the question of just how life may have sprung out of lifeless chemistry--and are also making advancements in turning genetic manipulation into a standardized engineering science that is capable of churning out technological solutions in everything from food production to energy to medicine (a field that has been dubbed `synthetic biology'). It is these recent advances in genetics that are the main topic of Creation: How Science is Reinveinting Life Itself by science writer Adam Rutherford.

    Rutherford does a very good job of covering some of the most significant recent advances in genetics, and of explaining the science behind it. The author also does well to capture the promise of the recent advances, while at the same time acknowledging the significant obstacles that stand in the way of future progress. The offering is certainly more readable than George Church's latest book Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves--to which this book will rightly be compared. However, Rutherford (despite having a solid background in biology himself) does not have quite the insider's perspective that someone like Church does, which is the only drawback I see here. All in all a very good popular science book on a very important topic. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, July 9. A podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 14, 2013

    The first part of this book introduces the reader to the field o

    The first part of this book introduces the reader to the field of
    genetics. No science background is needed to read the book - it
    starts with basic concepts of biology and incrementally
    introduces more advanced aspects of cells, proteins, viruses, and
    DNA. The author discusses the scientific concepts in a
    conversational manner, with many witty and insightful observations
    that make the book very readable. By the end of the first part, it
    was really impressive to see how many concepts in cellular biology
    had been covered. I felt like I had achieved a good basis for
    understanding articles about genetic engineering.

    The second part of the book delves into the current projects in
    genetics, from approaches to fighting cancer, to modifying food
    and agricultural crops, to technologies for astronauts to use.

    Had I read a book like this before going to college, I would have
    gone into the field of cellular biology. The book highlights the
    ways that the work in this field is critical for solving
    challenges in health, energy, and the environment. Many
    discoveries are happening through the convergence of science and
    engineering using the tools of synthetic biology.

    The book explains how cells can be designed and bred to become
    part of an arsenal of biological components and tools. The various
    cellular assemblages suggest routes for fighting disease,
    purifying environmental pollution, and finding new sources of
    energy.

    I see this book as instrumental to anyone that has to deal with
    companies that are in the healthcare/agriculture/pharmaceutical
    spaces. The book is helpful for understanding day to day science in
    the news, including concerns
    about genetic engineering of food, viruses, technologies, patents,
    etc - the reader will be in a much better place to evaluate the
    stories coming across the wire.

    These new technologies for genetic manipulation are accessible
    and found in many labs and schools. Groups of undergraduate students are now on teams competing to design and grow new types of cells.

    I am definitely going to pass this book along to my son to give
    him a vision of where things are going (I was surprised by how far
    the science has already come). Enjoy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    A little bit deep but fascinating. Expands your thinking about the world and life and yourself.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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