What Is Life ?

Alex Merz merza at ohsu.edu
Mon Jan 16 21:03:33 EST 1995

In article <3f7kop$s3t at dingo.cc.uq.oz.au>,
Nigel Stobbs <pd120395 at dingo.cc.uq.oz.au> wrote:
>the genetic material necessary to self-replicate.  I am specifically 
>intereted in precisely what it is that a biologically living thing has 
>that no purely artificial thing can ever have.

Organization. Materials are not, in my opinion, as important as
organization. Although all organisms share certain classes of materials,
such as nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and proteins, you can still drop
an organism into a Waring blender and kill it without changing the
materials in the blender (chemically). 

So then we are forced to confront the question: what are the
distinctive characteristics of biological organization? 

One Idea, forwarded by F Varela and H Maturana, is that biological
sysyems are autonomous, self-producing metabolic networks. 

"Autopoiesis" - literally, self-production - is the term they used to 
name this form of organization. The key idea is that the network is
composed of materials that were transformed into usable states by the
network itself. 

For example, an automobile is _allo_ (other-) poetic, since it was built
in a factory. A bacterium is a self contained factory that builds living

These ideas are fleshed out, as it were, and some of their implications
are explored, in the books _The Tree of Knowledge_ and _Autopoiesis: the
realization of the living_. Both are by the above authors. 


>Nigel Stobbs
>email: pd120395 at mailbox.uq.oz.au

More information about the Microbio mailing list