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Biology and General Science

Biology and General Science

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Artificial Life and the Bounds of Nature

Synthetic biology, which aims to design and build organisms that serve human needs, has potential applications that range from producing biofuels to programming human behavior. The emergence of this new form of biotechnology, however, raises a variety of ethical questions—first and foremost, whether synthetic biology is intrinsically troubling in moral terms. Is it an egregious example of scientists “playing God”?

An Introduction

Systems techniques are integral to current research in molecular cell biology, and system-level investigations are often accompanied by mathematical models. These models serve as working hypotheses: they help us to understand and predict the behavior of complex systems. This book offers an introduction to mathematical concepts and techniques needed for the construction and interpretation of models in molecular systems biology.

The extraordinary and adorable antics of penguins attract thousands of tourists every year to remote and icy locations. Penguins never fail to make people smile; wild penguins waddle up and inspect us as if we were just another kind of flightless creature walking on two legs. In this book, the vibrant world of penguins is shown in all its glory by David Tipling, who has trekked to beautiful and faraway locations to capture these birds in their natural habitats.

Evolution and Emerging Individuality

Our intuitive assumption that only organisms are the real individuals in the natural world is at odds with developments in cell biology, ecology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and other fields. Although organisms have served for centuries as nature’s paradigmatic individuals, science suggests that organisms are only one of the many ways in which the natural world could be organized. When living beings work together—as in ant colonies, beehives, and bacteria-metazoan symbiosis—new collective individuals can emerge.

Foundations of an Emerging Discipline

The emerging field of action science is characterized by a diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches that share the basic functional belief that evolution has optimized cognitive systems to serve the demands of action. This book brings together the constitutive approaches of action science in a single source, covering the relation of action to such cognitive functions as perception, attention, memory, and volition. Each chapter offers a tutorial-like description of a major line of inquiry, written by a leading scientist in the field.

With robots, we are inventing a new species that is part material and part digital. The ambition of modern robotics goes beyond copying humans, beyond the effort to make walking, talking androids that are indistinguishable from people. Future robots will have superhuman abilities in both the physical and digital realms. They will be embedded in our physical spaces, with the ability to go where we cannot, and will have minds of their own, thanks to artificial intelligence. They will be fully connected to the digital world, far better at carrying out online tasks than we are.

This collection reports on the latest research on an increasingly pivotal issue for evolutionary biology: cooperation. The chapters are written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and utilize research tools that range from empirical survey to conceptual modeling, reflecting the rich diversity of work in the field. They explore a wide taxonomic range, concentrating on bacteria, social insects, and, especially, humans.

What We Have Taken from Nature

The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day.

Sitting on the beach on a sunny summer day, we enjoy the steady advance and retreat of the waves. In the water, enthusiastic waders jump and shriek with pleasure when a wave hits them. But where do these waves come from? How are they formed and why do they break on the shore? In Waves, Fredric Raichlen traces the evolution of waves, from their generation in the deep ocean to their effects on the coast.

How do we make decisions? Conventional decision theory tells us only which behavioral choices we ought to make if we follow certain axioms. In real life, however, our choices are governed by cognitive mechanisms shaped over evolutionary time through the process of natural selection. Evolution has created strong biases in how and when we process information, and it is these evolved cognitive building blocks—from signal detection and memory to individual and social learning—that provide the foundation for our choices.

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