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The Touchstone of Life


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Werner R. Loewenstein was Professor of Physiology and Director of the Cell Physics Laboratory at Columbia University and is presently Director of the Laboratory of Cell Communication at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He lives in Woods Hole and Key Biscayne, Florida.


Biophysicist Loewenstein argues forcefully that information works in tandem with energy to provide structure to the physical world. He adopts the information science definition of information: a measure of order that "quantifies the instructions that are needed to produce a certain organization." Starting back at the Big Bang, Loewenstein discusses the origin of information and explains how it "pulls a molecular organization out of the erratic quantum world and engenders the primal organizations of matter in the universe." The bulk of his book then focuses on the role information transfer has played in the evolution of life over the past four million years. By merging principles of biology and physics, Loewenstein explains the workings of cell biology and biochemistry. Information exchange is shown to be responsible for processes as diverse as cellular reproduction, hormonal action, forms of cancerous growth and‘or so the author claims‘human consciousness. Though Loewenstein states he has written a book for the scientist and nonspecialist alike, he doesn't ever quite settle in to a single audience. Some sections‘his explanation of DNA structure, for example‘are far more simplistic than nearly any reader will require, while many of the rest are so technical that most nonscientists will find them very difficult indeed. 33 halftones, 53 linecuts. (Jan.)

The biophysicist from Woods Hole Institute explains cellular communication and the role of information theory in molecular biology, tying together the most recent discoveries in an interesting and well-written account. Nothing less than the organization and circuitry of life is tackled here, and it is done successfully. (LJ 1/99) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Among the tens of thousands of articles that I have read during my career as a research scientist, the one that most astonished me was published over 30 years ago by Werner Loewenstein and his colleagues. They showed that biological structures called cell junctions, which I and many other scientists had believed to act as barriers blocking movements of molecules passing the outside of cells, also functioned in perpendicular direction as highways permitting the flow of molecules between the insides of cells. In this new book, Loewenstein, the man who thereby opened the field of cell-to-cell communication, now summarizes the whole field and its implications for cancer, thought, and much else.--Jared M. Diamond, University of California, Los Angeles
The Touchstone of Life may be the most fascinating book I have read.... The language throughout the book is complex like a Tennessee Williams classic yet fast-paced like a Michael Crichton thriller.--Mark D. Drapeau, American Scientist
Dr. Werner Loewenstein is one of the great pioneers in the field of cell communication. He has now produced an extensive and scholarly review linking the wider aspects of information exchange in the biological world. The Touchstone of Life is a book of very general interest. --Sir Michael Stoker, CBE FRS
Poetic and encyclopedic.... In a tour de force, he traces the origin of information, the orderly arrangement of matter and energy, to the first instants after the Big Bang.... Lowenstein writes engagingly, and he provides the background material a nonspecialist needs to follow the intricate story.--George Johnson, The New York Times Book Review
Over 30 years ago, the research of Werner Loewenstein and his colleagues on cell junctions opened the field of intercellular communication. Since then, Loewenstein has contributed much to our understanding of biological information transfer. His new book, The Touchstone of Life, is in many ways highly original...[it] contains myriad facts, unexpected relations, and remarkable insights.--Louis DeFelice, Science

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