Tag Archives: James D. Watson

What Is Life? From Schrödinger to Watson to Venter

In February 1943 Erwin Schrödinger, delivered a seminal lecture, entitled ‘What is Life?’, under the auspices of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, in Trinity College, Dublin. This was published as a book – What is Life?

Craig Venter revisited this question in a lecture “What is Life? A 21st century perspective” a week or so back. This was presented in Dublin at the Science in the City program of Euroscience Open Forum 2012 (ESOF 2012). Venter covers the history of research into the nature of life over the last 60 years – from Schrödinger’s lecture up to his own recent discoveries.

Also at this lecture was James Watson, one of the discovers of the helical structure of DNA. Watson briefly commented on Venter’s lecture – and left the audience with a typically provocative question – given the role of chemistry in life does any role remain for biologists?

The video of Venter’s lecture is about one hour-long, and the sound quality is not the best. But listen to it if you can. Alternatively the text of his lecture is at the Edge web page – WHAT IS LIFE? A 21st CENTURY PERSPECTIVE.

(Sorry, I can’t embed these edge videos).

There is a shorter version of Venter’s lecture given as an after dinner speech at the Edge Dinner in Tuirin a few days before – see J. CRAIG VENTER: THE BIOLOGICAL-DIGITAL CONVERTER, OR, BIOLOGY AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT.

If you prefer podcasts this weeks Guardian Science Weekly also covers Venter’s speech. Alok Jha interviewed Venter – part of the interview is in the regular podcast. The full interview is in a podcast extra.

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Check out your ancestors

Here’s a handy little resource of anyone interested in evolutionary science – The Timetree of life.  It enables you to find the last common ancestor of two species. Or, as the website describes it:

“TimeTree is a public knowledge-base for information on the evolutionary timescale of life. A search utility allows exploration of the thousands of divergence times among organisms in the published literature. A tree-based (hierarchical) system is used to identify all published molecular time estimates bearing on the divergence of two chosen taxa, such as species, compute summary statistics, and present the results. Names of two taxa to be compared are entered in the search window and the results are presented on a separate page.”

You can try it out at the search page. Just enter two names and click on search. This is the summary of what I got for humans and onions. Yes, we diverged 1408 million years ago. Continue reading