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Synthetic Biology and the Mechanism of Life


THE presidential address delivered by Prof. Schäfer to the British Association in 1912, and the subsequent independent discussion at a joint sitting of two of the sections, served, as was pointed out by Prof. Armstrong in a paper in Science Progress in October last, “as a useful corrective to the wave of vitalism that has passed over society of late years owing to the pervasive eloquence of Bergson and other writers.” Probably the majority of those who have studied the phenomena of life from the chemical side will agree with Prof. Schäfer in his dictum that “at the best vitalism explains nothing,” and accept his opinion “that we may fairly conclude that all changes in living substance are brought about by ordinary chemical and physical forces.” The difficulty, however, lies in obtaining any satisfactory information as to what are the actual chemical or physical changes which occur in the real living cells or tissues. Since this discussion was held Prof. S. Leduc, of the School of Medicine at Nantes, has published a monograph 1 in which he approaches the problem from the novel point of view which now for several years past has guided his experiments and with which readers of his “Mechanism of Life” will be familiar.


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D., W. Synthetic Biology and the Mechanism of Life . Nature 91, 270–272 (1913).

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