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Life Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Life Science

Thinking about Life: The history and philosophy of biology and other sciences by Paul S. Agutter, Denys N. Wheatley (Springer) This is a “popular science” book, designed as a sequel to our About Life: Concepts in Modern Biology by Paul S. Agutter and Denys N. Wheatley(Springer), which uses modern biological knowledge to tackle the question: "What distinguishes living organisms from the non-living world?" In the first few chapters, the authors draw on recent advances in cell and molecular biology to develop an account of the "living state" that applies to all organisms, but only to organisms. Subsequent chapters use this account to explore questions about evolution, the origin of life and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Towards the end of the book the authors consider human evolution, intelligence and the extent to which our species can be regarded as biologically unique. About Life: Concepts in Modern Biology is written as far as possible in non-technical language; all scientific terms are explained straightforwardly when they are introduced. It is aimed at the general, non-specialist reader, but the novel approach that it takes to general issues in biology will also interest students of the life sciences. Indeed, no specialist knowledge is required. Thinking about Life: The history and philosophy of biology and other sciences briefly surveys the nature of science and its emergence in post-Renaissance Europe, and investigates the similarities and differences between biology and other sciences. Major topics in the philosophy of biology (e.g. evolutionary theory, vitalism/mechanism, reductionism/holism, spontaneous generation) are considered in a little more detail.

Their previous book, About Life: Concepts in Modern Biology, concerned modern biology. We used our present-day understanding of cells to 'define' the living state, providing a basis for exploring several general-interest topics: the origin of life, extraterrestrial life, intelligence, and the possibility that humans are unique. The ideas we proposed in About Life were intended as starting-points for debate — we did not claim them as 'truth' — but the information on which they were based is currently accepted as 'scientific fact'.

What does that mean? What is 'scientific fact' and why is it accepted? What is science — and is biology like other sciences such as physics (except in subject mat­ter)? The book you are now reading investigates these questions — and some related ones. Like About Life: Concepts in Modern Biology, it may particularly interest a reader who wishes to change career to biology and its related subdisciplines. In line with a recommendation by the British Association for the Advancement of Science — that the public should be given fuller information about the nature of science — we present the concepts underpinning biology and a survey of its historical and philosophical basis.

In the first chapter of About Life: Concepts in Modern Biology we defined science, provisionally, as a way of satisfying our curiosity by formulating questions about what we observe and answering them dispassionately, without making value judgements. That definition seemed adequate at the time, but it is easy to pick holes in it. For example, the word `science' is used regularly in television programmes, magazines, websites and broadsheet newspapers, but it seems to be used in different senses. How can we interpret the word when its meaning varies?

For most people, most of the time, 'science' means knowledge of a certain sort': a collection of facts and beliefs that helps us to explain and predict the observable world coherently. A science textbook is a repository of such knowledge. When you study science at school or university you learn some of it. But 'scientific knowledge' changes continuously. You only have to compare an old edition of a textbook with a recent one to see how much has had to be rewritten in the last 10-15 years.' Emerging techniques reveal new facts about the world and our way of thinking has to change to accommodate them. Indeed, many different factors influence the way in which science changes: political, economic, religious, and so on. Therefore, a `scientific fact' — a 'scientific truth' — is not constant or absolute or 'eternal'. Historians of science can tell us how, and in part why, our understanding of nature has changed over time. If we are to understand what science is and in what sense it can claim to provide 'truth', we need to understand why it changes. Therefore, much of this book is about history: the traditions from which modern science evolved and the controversies that arose in the process. Our emphasis from Chapter 6 onwards is on the history of biology.

Practising scientists use the word 'science' to describe their day-to-day work: planning and performing experiments, making observations, recording data, inter­preting results, deducing, predicting, speculating, and communicating their find­ings. Before you are entitled to participate in these activities you must pass a number of examinations and serve what amounts to an apprenticeship under the guidance of one or more established practitioners. You will find yourself facing a career structure with various pay scales and competing, often intensely, with simi­larly qualified people. A code of professional ethics (largely unspoken) helps to regulate this competition. It should also regulate other aspects of your behaviour; good scientists do not invent data or steal each other's results; and when appropri­ate, they consider their new ideas in relation to technology and public debate. Understood in this sense — what people called 'scientists' do — 'science' is a subject for sociologists.

However, when practising scientists are asked what 'science' is, they seldom answer in terms of their daily work or their ethics. More commonly they tell us that science is a special and distinctive way of thinking about the natural world, unmatched in the intricate detail, practical applicability or 'truth' of what it generates. But what exactly is this way of thinking? How is it 'distinctive' ? And in what sense is the knowledge it produces `true'? Most of those are questions for philosophers, but scientists should also consider them.

It is surprisingly difficult to pin down the relationships among the history, sociology and philosophy of science. Sociologists of science look at single frozen frames in the film of history. History illustrates and tests the arguments of philosophers. The history, philosophy and sociology of science are collectively labelled 'science studies', but they remain separate disciplines, each with its own methods and standards of quality. They are specialised subjects, though their domains overlap considerably. In this book, we shall adopt arguments and perspec­tives from each of them to suit our purposes, but we shall not go into details.

Many of our colleagues, including some eminent ones, have a deep antipathy to `science studies', which they think distorts our picture of science and its status as a uniquely reliable mode of knowledge. They say that it damages the public image and therefore the funding of science. We understand this antipathy, but the best work in the science studies disciplines should not be dismissed lightly. We need it to answer our questions about what science is, and why it is, and to explore the similarities and differences between biology and other sciences. In order to study the thinking behind the science of biology — which includes the whole range of knowledge from early life forms to modern medicine — we have to consider how it arose, and to understand, as well as we can, the thought process and philosophies of the pioneers of modern thought. Thinking about Life: The history and philosophy of biology and other sciences attempts to introduce why these objections carry some merit.

Without such considerations, we cannot go on to explore the most controversial topics associated with biology and other sciences today: patenting of human genes, cloning, genetic modification of crops, the obliteration of habitats, the extinction of species, and so on. These are matters that concern everyone, and we all need to be able to discuss them rationally, from an informed standpoint. We offer this book in an effort to meet that need.

The bibliography of Thinking about Life: The history and philosophy of biology and other sciences comprises publications that expand on the ideas presented in the text or offer different perspectives: some are introductory and others are more advanced, but all should be accessible to the non-specialist reader. For particular points, we have relied on professional publications and old or classical works that may interest readers with specialist backgrounds; we have cited these in footnotes at appropriate points in the text rather than adding them to the bibliography.


How to Prepare for the AP Biology with CD-ROM by Deborah T. Goldberg (Barron's Educational Series) This updated test preparation manual now includes a CD-ROM that presents virtually everything that is in the book, including its three full-length practice exams with questions answered and explained. An in-depth review of all AP Biology test topics covers biochemistry, photosynthesis, cell division, heredity, molecular genetics, evolution, plants and animals in Earth’s ecological system, and laboratory procedure. Students will also find an enlightening overview of the AP Biology exam as well as study tips and test-taking advice.

  • Read and understand the author’s overview of the AP Biology exam

  • Devise your personal study plan for success

  • Review all AP Biology topics in the book and on the CD-ROM

  • Take the practice tests available both in the book and on the CD-ROM

  • Review the answers and explanations for all test questions

What Makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline by Ernst Mayr (Cambridge University Press) is a crowning survey of the claims of biology, defining it as an independent science, not a secondary offspring of physics and chemistry. “His mind is still remarkably sharp.” Science

"In this first book of the second century of his long career, the biologist Ernst Mayr at age 100 has given us his reflections on the most interesting and important questions about life: why living things can't be understood just as very complex machines, how humans evolved, why we haven't yet communicated with any extraterrestrials, and others. Written with a clarity and vigor that shine from every page, this book is best summarized in one word: exciting!" Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA, author of Guns, Germs and Steel (Pultizer Prize, 1998).

"Ernst Mayr has long had a deep and well-informed interest in the philosophy of biology in relation to broad questions in the philosophy of science. This is an invaluable, thought-provoking, and engaging summary of his ideas, a crowning achievement!" Mary Jane West-Eberhard, Senior Scientist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, author of Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (Hawkins Award, 2003).
The role of a philosophy of biology is rescued and clarified; misconceptions about Darwinism (6 theories, not one), speciation, and variation, above all, natural selection are rectified. A final chapter offers a sobering assessment of the possibilities for finding extraterrestrial life, while exploring the utterly freak nature of intelligence. Another chapter ably dismisses the relevance of Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" for biological science. A minor quibble is a few references missing from sources' listings, but Mayr's delineation of the principles and principal, as well as lesser players in biology's emergence is magisterially unequalled. Probably the final book that this giant of modern biology will undertake, published in this Mayr's centenarian year.

This collection of revised and new essays argues that biology is an autonomous science rather than a branch of the physical sciences. Ernst Mayr, widely considered the most eminent evolutionary biologist of the 20th century, offers insights on the history of evolutionary thought, critiques the conditions of philosophy to the science of biology, and comments on several of the major developments in evolutionary theory. Notably, Mayr explains that Darwin's theory of evolution is actually five separate theories, each with its own history, trajectory and impact. Ernst Mayr, commonly referred to as the "Darwin of the 20th century" and listed as one of the top 100 scientists of all-time, is Professor Emeritus at Harvard University. What Makes Biology Unique is the 25th book he has written during his long and prolific career. His recent books include This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Belknap Press, 1997) and What Evolution Is (Basic Books, 2002).

Concise Encyclopedia of Bioresource Technology edited by Ashok Pandey (Food Products Press: The Haworth Reference Press) An easy-to-use reference source on the applications and management of biotechnology!

The Concise Encyclopedia of Bioresource Technology is a unique resource for state-of-the-art research findings on biotechnological innovations and their potential for commercial exploitation. This comprehensive reference gives you immediate access to information on the application of bioresource technology as it relates to industrial, food, and environmental biotechnology. Practitioners, academics, and researchers representing a wide range of disciplines examine vital issues including the production and applications of microbial enzymes and organic acids, fermentation, wastewater treatment, and air pollution.
The Concise Encyclopedia of Bioresource Technology will bring you up to date on advances in the applications and management of bioprocesses, biomass, bioenergy, biological waste treatment, biotransformations, and conversion and production technologies. This vital information has been organized in an easy-to-use format that lets you become familiar with highlights of the most relevant topics and includes photographs, figures, and tables.

Issues addressed in the book include:

  • agro-industrial residues for bioprocesses

  • solid-state fermentation for bioconversion of biomass

  • alcoholic fermentation

  • food grade yeast production

  • treatment of industrial effluents

  • anaerobic animal waste environments

  • reactors for wastewater treatment

The Concise Encyclopedia of Bioresource Technology is a vital resource for practitioners, researchers, and academics working in the areas of biotechnology, chemical engineering, resource, energy and conservation sciences, process technology, applied microbiology, and farm and industrial waste technology.

Bioresource technology incorporates a wide spectrum of science and technology, including engineering sciences. It involves applied biological sciences for investigating the present-day subjects of biosciences, mainly for the industrial, food, and environmental sectors. Principles from such sci­entific disciplines as biochemistry, bioprocess technology, chemical engi­neering, enzyme technology, food and fermentation technology, molecular biology, microbiology, microbial technology, etc., are strongly practiced by biotechnologists, chemical engineers, resource, energy, and conservation scientists, process technologists, applied microbiologists, farm and industrial waste technologists, etc., in applying bioresource technology for industrial, food, and environmental applications. Gradual emergence of new technologies for large-scale conversions of renewable raw materials of biological origin to various industrial and energy markets has further widened the scope of bioresource technology. The editor has made a con­scious and careful effort to select and discuss vivid topics related with the subject, including biomass, bioenergy, biowastes, production technologies, microbial growth processes, enzymatic methods, agricultural and food pro­cessing residues, municipal wastes, environmental protection, bioremedi­ation, recycling, aerobic methods, anaerobic digestion, etc.

Forty-four chapters are covered in this encyclopedia, describing the ap­plication of bioresource technology in three sectors—environmental biotechnology, food biotechnology, and industrial biotechnology.

Part I, Environmental Biotechnology, comprises 11 chapters and 19 arti­cles. The first chapter provides a brief overview of recent advances in biological wastewater treatment. Two related chapters are included, one on re-actors for wastewater treatment (biological reactors, membrane bioreactor, rotating biological contractors, trickling filters, and waste stabilization ponds) and another on treatment of industrial effluents (distillery effluent, pulp and paper mill effluent, removal of heavy metals from wastewater, tan­nery effluent, and textile and dye effluent). The development of such bioprocesses as biobeneficiation, biodegradation of polycyclic aromatic hy­drocarbons, biofiltration, biological control of air pollution, biomethanogenesis, bioremediation, and microbiologically influenced corrosion are discussed in other chapters in this section.

Part II, Food Biotechnology, includes 14 chapters, two of which deal with fermented products, i.e., fermented vegetables products and fermented milk products. Food products production is an important area of food biotechnology, hence several chapters cover the production of food additives, food-grade yeast, mushrooms, nutraceuticals, prebiotics, probiotics, single-cell protein, vitamins, and xanthan gum. A chapter on kefir yeast technol­ogy provides information on recent technological developments in this area. The section also includes three chapters on biopolymer application, biotransformations of citrus flavone glycosides, and molecular methods for mi­crobial detection and characterization for food safety.

The third and final part, Industrial Biotechnology, includes 19 chapters, incorporating 22 articles. The first chapter in this section, which covers al­coholic fermentation, describes bacterial alcoholic fermentation, fruit-based alcoholic beverages, fuel ethanol from renewable biomass resources, grape-based alcoholic beverages, malted barley, Scotch whiskey, beer, and thermo-­tolerant and osmo-tolerant yeasts for alcoholic fermentation. Three chapters dealing with the production of alkaloids, aflatoxins and other secondary metabolites, amino acids, and antibiotics follow. A chapter on the applications of agro-industrial residues for bioprocesses describes specific exam­ples of industrial residues from the cassava industry, coffee industry, palm oil industry, and seafood industry. Two related chapters discuss pretreatment of lignocellulosic substrates and recycling of agricultural by-products and residues for animal feeding. Yet another related chapter discusses solid-state fermentation for the bioconversion of biomass, providing insight about the general aspects, design, engineering, and modeling of solid-state fermentation. Several chapters describe the production of commercially important microbial metabolites and products, such as aroma compounds, biodiesel, biofertilizers, biosurfactants, pigments, polyhydroxyalkanoates, and xylitol. The process of biopulping, outlined in yet another chapter, is significant because it is environmentally friendly and offers several advantages. Enzymes and organic acids from microbial sources have important industrial applications. Several therapeutic enzymes have found new applications to treat dreaded diseases such as cancer. Articles in this section describe the production and application of important enzymes, such as inulinase, laccase, lignin peroxidase, lipase, pectinase, phytase, proteases, xylanase, and L-gluta­minase, and organic acids, such as citric acid, gallic acid, and lactic acid.

Creation: Life and How to Make It by Steve Grand (Harvard University Press) "If you've heard about A-life but aren't quite sure what it is or where it's going, Grand's book is an excellent place to enter one of the more exciting areas of twenty-first-century science." --John L. Casti, Nature Working mostly alone, almost single-handedly writing 250,000 lines of computer code, Steve Grand produced Creatures(R), a revolutionary computer game that allowed players to create living beings complete with brains, genes, and hormonal systems--creatures that would live and breathe and breed in real time on an ordinary desktop computer. Enormously successful, the game inevitably raises the question: What is artificial life? And in this book--a chance for the devoted fan and the simply curious onlooker to see the world from the perspective of an original philosopher-engineer and intellectual maverick--Steve Grand proposes an answer. From the composition of the brains and bodies of artificial life forms to the philosophical guidelines and computational frameworks that define them, Creation plumbs the practical, social, and ethical aspects and implications of the state of the art. But more than that, the book gives readers access to the insights Grand acquired in writing Creatures--insights that yield a view of the world that is surprisingly antireductionist, antimaterialist, and (to a degree) antimechanistic, a view that sees matter, life, mind, and society as simply different levels of the same thing. Such a hierarchy, Grand suggests, can be mirrored by an equivalent one that exists inside a parallel universe called cyberspace.

The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology by Hans Jonas (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy; Northwestern University Press)

One of the most prominent thinkers of his generation, Hans Jonas wrote on topics as diverse as the philosophy of biology, ethics, social philosophy, cosmology, and Jewish theology‑always with a view to understanding morality as the root of our responsibility to safeguard humanity's future. A classic of phenomenology and existentialism and arguably Jonas's greatest work, of The Phenomenon of Life sets forth a systematic and comprehensive philosophy‑an existential interpretation of biological facts laid out in support of Jonas's claim that the mind is prefigured throughout organic existence. Jonas shows how life‑forms present themselves on an ascending scale of perception and freedom of action, a scale that reaches its apex in a human being's capacity for thought and morally responsible behavior. The first seven chapters of The Phenomenon of Life, which present the substance and methodology of Jonas' "Philosophy of Biology," are as brilliantly lucid as they are original. Regarding the form, Jonas' language is, at times, obscure in its heavy academic prose but for those willing to give the time required it is nothing short of eloquent.

At the center of this philosophy is an attack on the funda­mental assumptions underlying modern philosophy since Descartes, primarily dualism. Dissenting from the dualistic view of value as a human projection onto nature, Jonas's critique affirms the classical view that Being harbors the good. In a brilliant synthesis of the ancient and modern, Jonas draws upon existential philosophy to justify core insights of the classical tradition. Based on a meticulous consideration of empirical phenomena, this critique tran­scends the historical limits of its phenomenological method­ology and existential ethical stance to take its place among the most scientifically nuanced contemporary accounts of moral nature. It lays the foundation for an ethic of responsi­bility grounded neither in the autonomy of the self nor in the needs of the community but in an assignment by Being to protect the natural environment that has allowed us to spring from it.

Regarding the content, I would venture to say that no one can come away from this book without a changed perspective on everything living both in the simplest forms and in the complexities of the unique powers of mankind. The fifth chapter, entitled "To Move and to Feel-- On the Animal Soul" is about as dense with truth as one can handle. Also extraordinary are the first chapter and its first appendix--which in two paragraphs almost closes the book on the epistemological debate of Hume and Kant-- and the seventh chapter called "The Nobility of Sight." The work sets the monistic view of life that helps reform bioethics. The last chapters of the book, which turn to a "Philosophy of Man" are less innovative, although for the one called "Gnosticism, Existentialism and Nihilism,” Jonas speaks of a subject about which his lifelong passion shines through. Its observations are invaluable to one who seeks to understand the philosophical climate-- away from academic circles-- in the twentieth century especially when considering dualism versus monism.

Cloning: Responsible Science or Technomadness? edited by Michael Ruse and Aryne Sheppard (Contemporary Issues: Prometheus Press)

With the birth of the cloned sheep named "Dolly," a technique once found only in science fiction has suddenly become reality, along with a host of ethical, social, religious, and public policy dilemma What potential benefits could cloning research offer for the treatment human disease? How do the scientific facts differ ... from the public perceptions of cloning? Will it be possible to clone human beings in the near future, and if so, for what purpose? Are scientists playing God? Should the government regulate such research?

These are just a few of the profound questions addressed in this timely collection of the most significant articles on the subject of cloning. Michael Ruse and Aryne Sheppard have selected the work of leading scientists, med­ical ethicists, healthcare specialists, philosophers, and representatives of var­ious religious denominations to create an overview of the many issues raised by this amazing scientific advance. Contributors include: Justine Burley, Ronald Cole‑Turner, David Concar, David Elliot, Walter Glannon, Stephen Jay Gould, John Harris, Soren Holm, Axel Kahn, Leon R. Kass, A. J. Kind, Philip Kitcher, Arlene Judith Klotzko, J. H. Lipschutz, Harry M. Meade, Bernard E. Rollin, Julian Savulescu, A. E. Schnieke, Mary Warnock, Robert Williamson, Ian Wilmut, and Robert Winston.

In breadth of coverage and quality of the contributions, there is no comparable volume to this excellent collection on one of the most important issues of this century.

The Spark of Life: Darwin and the Primeval Soup by Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada (Perseus Books) provides current thinking on the origins of life. Where did we come from? Did life arise on earth or on some other planet? What did the earliest primitive organisms look like? Untangling a century of contentious debate, the authors explore current theories of the source of life-from Martian meteors to hydrothermal vents-and then present their own elegant scenario: Life arose not in the subterranean depths, as many believe, but on Earth's tumultuous surface, where a primitive form of natural selection spawned the first genetic material, perhaps in the form of a proto-virus. Knowing exactly how life began on Earth will not only teach us more about ourselves, it will bring us closer to finding life elsewhere. The biochemistry of the primordial goo has since become better understood, as has the physical environment of the early earth. Wills and Bada's dramatic account of the forces at work during Earth's first billion years--huge tides due to the nearby moon, volcanism, a turbulent atmosphere, and an ocean of a composition that can only be postulated--makes the emergence of self-replicating molecules, let alone reproducing organisms, seem improbable indeed. Researchers attack the problem both from the bottom up, by trying to synthesize a system with self-replicating properties, and from the top down, by discerning how the biochemicals of the cell (ATP, RNA, proteins, etc.) function together. A tour of the exobiological potential of the solar system caps this lively presentation.

The Ghosts of Evolution by Connie Barlow and Paul Martin (Basic Books) A fresh voice in science and nature writing presents an engaging first-person account of a revolution in ecological thinking A new vision is sweeping through ecological science: The dense web of dependencies that makes up an ecosystem has gained an added dimension-the dimension of time. Every field, forest, and park is full of living organisms adapted for relationships with creatures that are now extinct. In a vivid narrative, Connie Barlow shows how the idea of "missing partners" in nature evolved from isolated, curious examples into an idea that is transforming how ecologists understand the entire flora and fauna of the Americas. This fascinating book will enrich and deepen the experience of anyone who enjoys a stroll through the woods or even down an urban sidewalk. But this knowledge has a dark side too: Barlow's "ghost stories" teach us that the ripples of biodiversity loss around us now are just the leading edge of what may well become perilous cascades of extinction.

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