12 teosta 89 jäsentä 1 Review

About the Author

David W. Deamer is Research Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author of several books, including Assembling Life: How Can Life Begin on Earth and Other Habitable Planets? (Oxford University Press, 2019).

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Deamer, David



This is not an easy book to read. I had virtually finished it but then set it aside for ages (maybe more than a year before getting back to it). And I've just finished it. At one level, I'm really impressed with his arguments about the chemical basis of life .....on the other hand I found that trying to describe chemistry without chemical diagrams is pretty baffling. I'm used to chemistry diagrams and equations but found myself getting tangled in Deamer's prose. Maybe he was told to keep the diagrams out of it and to write for the general reader.
I found his focus on membranes interesting but he pretty much ignores the possibility of clay membranes and a mineral basis for life as proposed by Cairns-Smith. In fact he seems to be pretty much content free in respect of clay chemistry. Certainly he doesn't demonstrate any knowledge. And I found his adventures at the Chamkatcha volcanoes in Russia ..almost a babes in the wood story. Here we have the classical laboratory-based chemist venturing into the wild .......throwing a few chemicals into a hot pool ...and being surprised when the clay absorbed everything. Clearly he needs to get out more. And if he gets out more, I suspect his grand plan for a one cubic foot box with a clutch of chemicals, and wetting and drying cycles, some arbitrary carbon dioxide and nitrogen, etc., would rapidly go the way of the chemicals in the Chamkatcha hot pool. It just seems terribly naive to me to have at least 20 variables interacting in an uncontrolled way and expect to get any useful information from it. (And not just tar). One of the best bits of advice i got from one of my University lecturers was don't do (un-designed) test experiments by throwing some seeds into a paddock and seeing what survives or appears to grow best. I actually accompanied an agronomist who was doing just this and concluded that the lecturer was right. Unless one did a properly replicated experiment one could not derive any valid conclusions from it. I suspect Deamer's proposed experiment if run 1,000 time would probably give 1,000 different outcomes...and no useful knowledge. In fact it looks almost like a half-baked request for a grant. Maybe he is hoping that some grant organisation will read it and give him the $500,000 to run the experiment.
Leaving aside these rather strange digressions...he generally tells an interesting and powerful story. A lot of the basic chemistry of life has been shown to be reproducible in the lab ...but it is not yet clear how some of the steps might have taken place in the "wild". Obviously, he has a point that the "wild" would be a really complex place and we might need to try some complex approaches to sort out the chemistry. But I don't think he is there yet.
I'm still rather intrigued by the proposals of Cairns-Smith that pre-life might have been developing with mineral based chemistry (rather than pure organic chemistry). And clays might have been a template for developments. .....I'm currently reading Cairn-Smith's book - "Genetic takeover and the mineral origins of life" - but I'm not far enough into it to make any serious judgements. ......But it looks promising. I think Cairns-Smiths view that biochemistry is still pretty advanced chemistry and maybe there were many developments before proteins appeared on the scene.
Unfortunately, I'm at the point where if asked to explain Deamer's arguments I would really be floundering...apart from saying that lipids form vesicals and these vesicals can capture and concentrate RNA or similar organic molecules. And by a process of concentration and repeated cycles, any enzymatic activity could be captured and magnified etc etc.
But it's the sort of book that I might need to go back to and re-read ...or maybe just go and re-read my biochemistry text books first.
I give the book five stars ..though I'm slightly dubious about it.
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booktsunami | Nov 14, 2020 |



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