Science Book a Day Interviews Addy Pross


Special thanks to Addy Pross for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – What Is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology

Addy Pross is currently a Professor of Chemistry at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and a recognized authority in the area of chemical reactivity to which he contributed with the highly cited and acclaimed Pross-Shaik model of chemical reactivity. In recent years he has directed his attention to the biological arena where he has applied his expertise in chemical reactivity to the Origin of Life problem and the broader question of the problematic chemistry-biology interface. – Adapted from Oxford University Press

#1 – What was the impetus for What is life?

​It struck me some 15 years ago that the answer to ‘what is life?’ lies in chemistry, not physics or biology. It has to be because life isn’t just something that’s out there, but rather something we strongly believe emerged from a chemical system by chemical means. So, being a chemist, I became intrigued – how could such an extraordinary transformation have come about? And indeed the answer to ‘what is life’ lies in understanding the process by which it emerged. That is now covered by the newly emergent area of systems chemistry.

#2 – Your book focuses on something called Systems Chemistry. What is Systems Chemistry? And as a branch of chemistry, how long has it existed?

​Systems Chemistry, at least the part that interests me, deals with replicating molecules and the networks they establish. That’s a relatively new area of chemistry and the term was coined less than a decade ago ​though the first ​experiments ​​ ​in the field ​were carried out in the late 1960s.

#3 – How does Systems Chemistry answer questions about life where previous attempts have failed?

​Systems Chemistry, dealing as it does with simple replicating systems, fits in the void between regular (non-replicative) chemistry and biology (effectively, that’s complex replicative chemistry). In doing so systems chemistry throws light on the process by which life would have emerged and complexified. ​ ​Life is complex, but life’s essence, buried under layers of complexity, turns out to be simple. ​Systems chemistry is the tool that explores the very beginnings of that complexification process.

#4 – What has the response to your book been? How have scientists from disciplines such as biology, chemistry and physics responded to your book?

​Moore than satisfied. Purchasers comments on Amazon indicate the message has gotten through. As to scientific reactions,the ideas triggered much debate initially. With time (and scientific developments) the ideas seem to becoming mainstream.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about? ​

​Ideas continue to develop​ so that more recent papers reinforce and extend earlier arguments. These studies suggest that life’s essence lies in a quantitative understanding of the stability concept. ​Remarkably, l ife turns out to be a predictable (mathematically based) manifestation of material stability, not some mysterious material form seemingly inconsistent with the established laws of physics. Stay tuned…

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