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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Mailen Kootsey, PhD (Loma Linda University)
Description: This book is assembled from contributions presented at scaling in biology sponsored by the Santa Fe Institute, famous for the study of the sciences of complexity. Each chapter contributor addresses the following question: As we move up in size from bacterium to whale or giant tree, how do the various biological processes scale and what physical principles lie behind the ratios?
Purpose: The editors set out to produce a summary of current thinking from multiple disciplines on scaling in biology. The topic is timely because of current intense interest in quantitative and integrative biology. Roots of these interests extend back many years, but the computer and precise, new instrumentation in biology have greatly accelerated the pace of work and the level of interest.
Audience: The editors hope to communicate ideas about scaling to a broad audience, especially students and young researchers. Although the contributors are all specialized researchers, the editors worked to overcome the biologist's typical aversion to mathematics by keeping the number of mathematical equations to a minimum and by including graphs for visualization as well as ample introductory material.
Features: A strong feature of this book is the broad range of viewpoints of biological scaling represented, from field biology to mathematics and computer simulation. Typical subjects reviewed include mechanical support and movement, branching in arteries and leaves, and species abundance. Although the chapters are written by different authors, the terminology and mathematical symbols have largely been standardized by the editors.
Assessment: I personally appreciate this volume because it represents genuine integrative biology — understanding system behavior from underlying principles and components. This viewpoint is frequently praised, but seldom achieved in detail. This book is, in my opinion, an important contribution to quantitative biology and can be read and appreciated by both biologists and mathematicians.