• What Is Life?

  • Understand Biology in Five Steps
  • By: Paul Nurse
  • Narrated by: Paul Nurse
  • Length: 5 hrs and 7 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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What Is Life?

By: Paul Nurse
Narrated by: Paul Nurse
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Publisher's Summary

Discover what it means to be alive....

Life is all around us, abundant and diverse; it is extraordinary. But what does it actually mean to be alive?

Paul Nurse has spent his career revealing how living cells work. In this book, he takes up the challenge of defining life in a way that everyone can understand. It is a shared journey of discovery; step by step he illuminates five great ideas that underpin biology. He traces the roots of his own curiosity and knowledge to reveal how science works, both now and in the past. 

Using his personal experiences, in and out of the lab, he shares with us the challenges, the lucky breaks and the thrilling eureka moments of discovery. To survive the challenges that face the human race today – from climate change, to pandemics, loss of biodiversity and food security – it is vital that we all understand what life is.

©2020 Paul Nurse (P)2020 Faber & Faber Ltd

Critic Reviews

"A beautifully written exploration of perhaps the most important question in science." (Brian Cox)

"A nearly perfect guide to the wonder and complexity of existence." (Bill Bryson)

"Paul Nurse is about as distinguished a scientist as there could be. He is also a great communicator. This book explains, in a way that is both clear and elegant, how the processes of life unfold." (Philip Pullman)

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  • Ian Davidson
  • 06-30-21

Good but I expected more from this great mind.

Paul Nurse is an outstanding scientists and a passionate science communicator.

I enjoyed this audiobook but found it overly simplistic. It is a good place to start if you are new the topic.

Life is so difficult to describe, understand and to comprehend but we have come a long way in the past 40 years and this book fails to adequately describe the progress we have made nor does it address the provocative questions that need to be asked about what life is, ecology and the biosphere not to mention life’s origins.

I left this book wanting more. It is still with a read particularly if you are new to this topic.

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  • Yassin Musa
  • 06-14-21

A compelling account

This book, a great introduction to biology in general. I would recommend it for enthusiasts.

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  • "neiloshea"
  • 11-11-22

Didn’t stir a buzz

I didn’t find the book to be particularly revelatory or stirring. More a careful stepping through we trodden ground.

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  • J. Drew
  • 08-12-22

wonderful and thought provoking short book on life

This short and fascinating book looks at how and what life is. The book looks at five different areas; the cell, genes, life as chemistry, life as information and evolution by natural selection. Nurse was first inspired to look at this subject by observing a butterfly in his garden. He wondered how it can be different but still have and be full of purpose.
THE CELL is the basic function of all life. All cells look quite similar and contain mitochondria (which is similar to an amazing battery that gives our cells energy). Cells were discovered by Robert Hooke who noticed moving cells in water through a microscope (I think) and we now know that cells make up all life forms on this planet (plants, fungi and animals - including man).
GENES: Cells contain a recipe manual for making proteins - we know this as Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Four letters make up the DNA of life on Earth and naturally stores its information in just four key chemicals — guanine, cytosine, adenine and thymine, commonly referred to as G, C, A and T. If you think that just by using binary code such as in Morse Code you can write all the works of Shakespeare. . DNA is made of 2 sets of 23 chromosomes and most every single cell contains DNA consisting of 20000 - 25000 genes. These make proteins that go on to make up a living thing. If you unravel all of the 46 chromosomes and stretch a single strand of DNA it would stretch to an equivalent length of 2 metres. 30 trillion cells make up the human body. If you lined all the DNA that makes up a human and put it into a single line, your DNA would stretch as far as to Pluto and back. It's amazing to think that you exist as a single cell in the first moments of life and conception and become trillions. Each part of DNA within the cell makes. Bacteria have a single cell life and all living organisms are made up of single or multiple cells. They also make uo the characteristics of life yet each cell seems the same and built on a similar model in all life forms. They contain a code to make life in all its complexity.
- Mendelssohn first gave us an understanding that genes are inherited. Chromosomes are what we now make-up of genes. The double helix made up of A, C, T and G double up and are precisely copied and make-up proteins that make up life. RNA helps to make up energy. DNA stores information and the DNA inside of us now has been 3 billion years in the making.
LIFE AS CHEMISTRY: Chemical activity makes up cellular life. chemical reactions make up life based on carbon molecules. Enzymes make up chemical reactions and these make up polymers that create chemistry of life. This chemistry must be organised and schematic.
LIFE IS INFORMATION:. how does a baby know how to feed, it hasn't been given a manual. How do a wide range of animals know how to breed, feed, find food, move in different directions, make sense of their environment. There clearly must be information contained within cells and DNA that tell us how to behave and what to do.
EVOLUTION BY NATURAL SELECTION: Life has evolved over a long period of 3 billion years. Simple forms of molecules could evolve once and become multicellular. All life evolved once but could evolve in a wide range of adaptations. The Tree of Life is a good example of genetic variations where once upon a time, bacteria or some form of singular cell evolved, and became more and more complex. Then we had dinosaurs, which were all wiped out by an asteroid (this is the theory supported by most scientists) and then mammals came to dominate the planet. The fin on a fish evolved until it eventually resembled and became of foot or an arm, evolution moved to the land and more and more complex life forms developed. Darwin first noted this through his observations of finches beaks and how different types of beaks could break different types of nuts depending upon which island the finches were on. Cell reproduction and natural selection evolved. Some early life forms were so perfect they did not need to adapt and still exist today, but others through mutations needed to change, adapt and evolve. Viruses hijack and adapt as we've seen most recently with Covid. but they need other cells to exist and there is an argument if they are life. Life forms have become more complex. Even plants need bacteria to make energy to survive and make energy for life. Life is full of cooperation and we are all connected. Life is based on carbon polymer chemistry. All lifeforms that still exist today are life's great survivors. However, humans are the only life forms that can understand and make these connections. but we share some amino acids and DNA with all other living life forms (including fungi and plants) and when you wipe out one life form, you can form a domino effect where you then wipe out many more. There is a lot of junk DNA and only 2% of our human genes operate and work and form the proteins that, like a recipe book, make up the human body and all its behaviours.
- The author finishes with his own complications of heart surgery and how knowing all of this, helps medicine to keep us well. By understanding what life is, we can truly make modern advances in medicine and in helping people Khalid better life by understanding how the body works. Life is complicated and we need to take into account how it works. For most of our history, man has died from infectious diseases and other things are now curable. We need to be aware that by by understanding what life is, we can now treat many conditions that used to kill people. One final fact that blew my mind is that we have been able to extract ancient cells from life forms that existed long ago - scientists have even been able to extract and study DNA from a horse that died over 1 million years ago and that was stuck in permafrost.
- But we need to be aware of all of these things, particularly in relation to things like climate change and how we are destroying the planet. that by understanding this, we can help us to move forward. great book, by the recommended.

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