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July 12, 1995

Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative

Author Affiliations

St Petersburg, Fla

 

by Christian de Duve, 320 pp, with illus, $25, ISBN 0-465-09044-3, New York, NY, BasicBooks, 1995.

JAMA. 1995;274(2):182. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530020100041
Abstract

When did life begin? When carbon joined hydrogen and oxygen from sea water to form organic molecules? When lipoidal membranes formed vacuoles? With the replication of RNA? With formation of cells? Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, who has apparently devoted his career to the study of life, has produced an important book that is almost autobiographical and is a splendid answer. De Duve leads the reader through the complexities of evolution, from simple ocean chemistry to humans and their unique capacity for speech and self-consciousness.

The author applies Darwin's theory to evolving organic molecules and concurrent replication accidents that produce mutations. These mutant molecules then compete with each other for available resources—the limited quantity of nucleotides usable for replication. The winners are those that multiply fastest and monopolize the environment. "Natural selection operates blindly on material offered to it by chance."

The author's immaculate syntax explains membrane formation so

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