Quantum Evolution: The New Science of the Life Force

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9780002559485: Quantum Evolution: The New Science of the Life Force

How did life start? How did something capable of replicating itself emerge from the primordial soup? How did it defy the odds? And how did it carry on seeking out the very mutations that enable survival? Living organisms are controlled by a single molecule - DNA. Yet the study of physics tells us that the behaviour of single molecules is also controlled by the laws of quantum mechanics. The implications of this for biology result in Johnjoe McFadden's theory of quantum evolution. He shows how living organisms have the ability to will themselves into action. Indeed, such an ability may be life's most fundamental attribute. This has radical implications. Evolution may not be random at all, as recent evolutionary theories have taught: rather, cells may, in certain circumstances, be able to choose to mutate particular genes that provide an advantage in the environment in which the cell finds itself.

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Review:

The hairiest heresy of evolutionary biology, the one most likely to get scientists figuratively burned at the stake, is the notion that any force more selective than blind chance could drive mutation. Such "directed evolution" smacks too much of a retreat into creationism for most science-minded readers to be comfortable with, but there's no a priori reason to reject the idea. Molecular biologist Johnjoe McFadden risks the Inquisition by suggesting just such a possibility in Quantum Evolution: The New Science of Life. Directed at a general but somewhat sophisticated readership, the book covers the basics of both standard evolutionary theory and quantum-level physics, then synthesizes them in an interesting theory of made-to-order mutation that explains enough to warrant attention and is, importantly, testable.

McFadden's writing is clear and sharp, and it shows a high regard for the reader's intelligence and patience for complex ideas. This is no airplane book--except for those already well-versed in the latest in both evolutionary theory and subatomic physics. The rewards of reading are great, and the author bows just enough to established theory that he might meet the fate of his intellectual predecessors. The ideas underlying Quantum Evolution may be right or wrong, but they challenge received wisdom without plunging into dogmatism--and that's good science. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Johnjoe McFadden is a Reader in Molecular Microbiology at Surrey University and editor of Britain's leading text book on Molecular Biology. For over 10 years, Dr McFadden has specialised in examining tuberculosis and meningitis genes. He is the inventor of the first successful test for meningitis (which received worldwide press, radio and TV coverage) and was leader of another team, the first to successfully use artificial life computer programmes to model key transition stages in evolution (also covered by the media). This is his first book for a popular audience.

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