Woolfson, Adrian Life Without Genes

ISBN 13: 9780002556187

Life Without Genes

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9780002556187: Life Without Genes

Can life exist without genes? What happens when evolution itself evolves? Taking us beyond biology and genes, through ground-breaking analysis of all the genetic clues contained in each one of us, Adrian Woolfson broadens and changes our view of the future forever.

This book asks the question: Are genes necessary for life? And it provides the most revolutionary and persuasive of answers.

Genes may, in fact, be neither necessary nor sufficient for life. Woolfson, in ringingly clear and comprehensible fashion, sketches out a putative new history of life on earth, no less. He gives Life three new distinct ages: the geneless, the pre-genetic and the genetic. And then goes on to depict when and how the Geneless World existed, and to go further into the laws of chance and complexity to describe the space of all possible worlds, all possible organisms, all possible lifeforms.

It is mind-bending, genuinely dizzying intellectual fodder. Among its more dazzling implications are that the DNA Age might turn out to be as ephemeral as the Iron Age. So, what comes next, and how soon…?

This is one of the most exciting popular science books of recent years, with a compelling and genuinely original new thesis at its heart, and with an author capable of talking convincingly to specialist and non-specialist alike.

A scientific publishing event.

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Review:

If life started with genes, then hominid tool making may as well have started with the Model T Ford. Genetic processes are too sophisticated to have arisen spontaneously. So how did we come to be? Where must we look in our search for the beginnings of life? Adrian Woolfson is less interested in examining every theory than in exploring and explaining the whole notion of self-organisation: how the simplest self-organisers--the droplet of fat, say, that adopts a spherical shape in water--might give rise to living complexities. On the way, he offers a lucid and entertaining account of genetic processes, their importance--and their limitations--in making us what we are. Woolfson takes a mathematical approach to his subject. From a mathematical perspective, "living creatures are symbols which stand for their underlying mathematical edifices". So far, so dry: but Woolfson leaves us in no doubt as to what this implies: " ... packed alongside the small collection of crocodile gene kit boxes that have ... experienced the thrill of life and tasted blood ... is a much larger collection ... Crocodiles the size of tadpoles, winged crocodiles, tree-climbing crocodiles or crocodiles with elephant tusks and tiger stripes." Might DNA and genetic processes themselves be superseded? Woolfson's account ends on a speculative note. Life Without Genes is ground-up explanation of the first water. From Airfix kit-inspired, just-so stories to lucid descriptions of the work of the mathematician Ilya Prigogine, Woolfson is a virtuoso in full command of extraordinary material. -- Simon Ings

From the Publisher:

REVIEW EXTRACTS
‘Wildly, ferally enjoyable… fine-woven from dreams, swoops around the outer edges of the imaginable, LIFE WITHOUT GENES takes us to some mind-boggling conceptual spaces to make us question our assumptions about life (such as how can we define it). Woolfson also examines life’s possibly geneless origins with unconventional – but not implausible – hypotheses and looks at modes of development and possible future(s). The first chapter fetches up in ‘Gene Space’, ‘the hypermarket of all possible gene kits, the shop that stocks every type of DNA device that does, has or might ever in principle be able to walk, crawl, swim, float. Fly, flutter, drift, run hover, buzz or whirr across the space of the universe’. Scary. But not as scary perhaps, as the infinite dimensions of the Information Sea’, or the formless quasi-beings howling in the ‘Geneless Zoo’, the frightening Borgesian worlds Woolfson conjures into existence… LIFE WITHOUT GENES also communicates a sophisticated understanding of cutting-edge genetics research. However, what I found particularly grabbing is the way Woolfson lifts Darwinian evolution free of the language and structures of free-market capitalism, substituting historical contingency, the effects of environment and laws of probability for the more familiar lingo of costs, benefits and competition.'SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

‘A gloriously playful antidote to the prevailing gloomily determinist notion that everybody and everything is inescapably genetically programmed. Woolfson wears his daunting erudition lightly and encourages us to think of DNA as, for instance, an infinitely flexible Lego set with all manner of enticing possibilities. Eye-opening and heartening.’ SCOTSMAN

‘A welcome antidote to the naïve genetic determinism that is all too prevalent in popular science, and a pleasure to read. You have nothing to lose but your genes!’ IAN STEWART, author of Does God Play Dice? and Life's Other Secret

‘Be not afraid of the title! Adrian Woolfson loosens the meaning of the terms ‘life’ and ‘genes’, to provide us with new toys in the great playground of possibilities – where perhaps we shall come to understand the origins of life. It is serious fun.’ GRAHAM CAIRNS-SMITH, author of Seven Clues to the Origin of Life

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Woolfson, Adrian
Published by HarperCollins (2000)
ISBN 10: 0002556189 ISBN 13: 9780002556187
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Woolfson, Adrian
Published by HarperCollins (2000)
ISBN 10: 0002556189 ISBN 13: 9780002556187
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